E-gov projects advance, fund models stand still

DOD's Roseanne Hynes says OMB should take a stronger management role.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Frustrated by Congress' unwillingness to approve funding for the 25 Quicksilver e-government efforts, CIOs and other senior IT chiefs are suggesting that the President's Management Council needs to get more involved in figuring out how agencies can pay for the projects.

One agency CIO, who requested anonymity, said the Office of Management and Budget may need to ask each agency secretary to give one official the authority to commit agency funds and resources for the maintenance and operation of these initiatives.

Other agency officials, mostly from the Defense Department, also said the continued funding model for these projects needs work.

'When OMB established these programs, they came up with the best estimate at the time,' said Roseanne Hynes, director for technology and integration in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defense for Homeland Defense. 'But that doesn't mean the level of investment in the long run is adequate. It is time to review each partner's apportionment because that is what you do with any program as it evolves.'

Agencies have long complained about how OMB expected the projects to be funded. The pass-the-hat method left managers scrambling for funds and resources. Agencies were slow to deliver funding, stalling projects or forcing the lead agency to pay a higher share of the up-front costs than other agencies.

And Congress has continued to balk at providing full funding for the E-Government Fund. For 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration planned to pump $100 million into the fund, but Congress appropriated just $5 million for 2002 and this year. The fund might receive even less next year if House lawmakers succeed in getting a fiscal 2004 $1 million appropriation through conference committee.

Relocation expenses

Funding becomes even more important as agencies migrate to these joint systems, Hynes said. OMB expects most of the 25 e-government projects to shut down their old systems and move to new ones by next summer.

'When you migrate, you incur up-front costs to achieve long-term savings and other goals like interoperability and increased efficiency,' she said.

One DOD procurement official said FedBizOpps, the government's online procurement portal, is a perfect example of this long-term funding problem.

'We found out FedBizOpps cost more than anticipated, and we all got taxed for the extra funds,' the official said. 'We had to go to our leadership and ask for more money, and every time we have to do that, it becomes a harder sell.'

FedBizOpps costs about $4.7 million a year to run, and the General Services Administration charges agencies based on use levels.

The official suggested the need for each project's governing body to divvy up the cost per agency and get it approved by the President's Management Council.

Hynes suggested that OMB take a stronger management role.

'OMB could require agency partners to meet quarterly with OMB to discuss these types of issues,' Hynes said. 'This way we could resolve problems before we go forward to the most senior agency management.'

Hynes added that DOD's expertise with big projects also could prove helpful.

'We have more experience in large systems integration, large-scale acquisitions, large-scale systems migration and requirements analysis than anyone else in government,' she said. 'We need to put our expertise on the table, and agencies shouldn't be intimidated because we are DOD. This way they wouldn't have to hire outside contractors to do some of this work.'

Hynes said e-government has created a discipline within agencies to collaborate and identify investment strategies. Now, the administration and agencies need to build on that new strength, she said.

'E-government really has changed the way managers approach IT investments,' Hynes said.


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