Feds wrestle with IT planning requirements

Juggling IT budget mandates creates confusion, conflicts

Federal IT planners, if they're not careful, could face a three-way crash of uncoordinated requirements for capital planning, enterprise architecture and Exhibit 300 budget plans.

In some agencies, separate teams work on the enterprise architecture process, the capital planning and investment control process, and the Exhibit 300 business cases the Office of Management and Budget requires agencies to submit for IT projects.

'We need to break down the barriers between the enterprise architecture folks and the CPIC folks,' said Stuart Simon, IT capital planning coordinator for the Commerce Department, who was one of many speakers to address this challenge at a recent enterprise architecture conference in Washington sponsored by the E-Gov Institute.

'I have participated in a lot of hand-waving discussions about what is more important, EA or CPIC,' added Kenneth Moore, IT business manager in the CIO office of the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration. 'I have switched hats a couple of times on that. What you are making a decision about is what investments close the biggest performance gap.'

Panelists describing the interaction of the EA, capital planning and Exhibit 300 processes faced skeptical conferees asking questions from the floor.

Costs involved

One questioner, Robert Wright of the FBI, complained about the time and cost involved in drafting Exhibit 300 documents that did not receive approval.

'I've got to start two years ahead of time and invest hundreds of thousands of dollars [preparing an Exhibit 300] for something that may not get funded,' the FBI technology official said.

Wright suggested that the Exhibit 300 planning process was backward in that it puts the IT planning function before the business needs of the agency.

'That's our take on the 300s; we think they are out of cycle. We have never made CPIC and finance work together,' he said.

Moore defended the Exhibit 300 and capital planning process as a useful tool, while Simon allowed that Commerce's IT planning process, which began last January for fiscal 2008, does chew up some resources.

Other wrinkles in the planning process also introduce gaps, Simon suggested. He criticized the government's IT planning process, noting that agency business offices generally resist approving funds for planning and design.

'In the beginning stages [of a project] you have a lot of variances, so you need a lot of reserves,' Simon said. 'But many agencies do not want you to specify your reserves, so you have to hide them.'

Simon added that 'it does help if you cross-fertilize between teams working on enterprise architecture, CPIC and the budget.'

Simon participates in all three processes at Commerce, 'and that has made me a more effective resource for my agency.'

During another panel discussion, State Department IT officials described how the Consular Affairs Bureau had built an enterprise architecture that included planned upgrades. They also discussed how they had closed the gap between the architecture and the goals of budget-driven business process owners.

'We showed them where their investments fit into the enterprise architecture,' said Stephen Irmo, division chief and acting chief enterprise architect for the bureau.

State's architecture team tells the business process owners that 'when we go to OMB, we have to show real benefits [from each project].'

However, State's architects still don't have complete coordination with the CPIC process, Irmo said. 'Sometimes projects enter the CPIC process long before we get our hands on them,' he said.

State's architects want to get involved in the project approval process during the preselection phase, rather than the selection phase, 'where it is a contest of wills,' Irmo said.

State's architects do participate with the capital planning division in creating an IT strategic plan, but the architects' coordination with the capital planners 'is not complete,' he said.

The Exhibit 300 requirement in OMB's enterprise architecture process remains a powerful hammer for the architects, according to Marlene Howze, chief architect and EA program manager at the Labor Department.

'If they do not check that box [on the Exhibit 300 indicating architecture compliance], their investments are not funded,' Howze said.

A final curveball in the process is pressure to meet congressional political goals and to improve an agency's rating under the President's Management Agenda, Howze noted.

'If [a project] is politically driven, the EA will not assist at all,' Howze said.

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