OMB plans 25-point IT reform

Senior administration officials this morning will propose major changes to the way agencies buy, manage and implement technology over the next 18 months. The re...

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Over the next six months, all major technology programs must have a dedicated and full-time experienced program manager and an integrated program team, which includes finance, acquisition, business and legal experts.

If not, the Office of Management and Budget will not approve funding for large IT programs.

This is one of 25 major IT reforms that Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, and Jeff Zients, OMB’s deputy director for management, announced Thursday during a briefing at the White House.

The administration laid out initiatives in 6-12-18-month timeframes, addressing everything from cloud computing to project and program management to budget allocation and CIO authority and their roles and responsibilities.

Zients said during a separate news conference Wednesday updating the progress on the 26 high-risk projects that the government has missed too many opportunities to use technology to save money and improve efficiency, productivity and customer service.

“Too often programs go 0-for-3, they run over budget, they fall behind schedule and fail to deliver promised functionality,” Zients said. “This is simply unacceptable and we have to change this. So closing this IT gap between how the private sector and federal government deploy IT is key to boosting efficiency, saving money and making government more responsive to the public.”

Many of the IT reforms being announced Thursday come from nearly two years of reviews around these 26 projects, 20 financial management systems and through TechStat review sessions on more than 50 projects.

OMB also is pulling in private sector best practices based on a forum held last January with 50 CEOs from the private sector.

“We now have a clear understanding of the structure reforms we need to make,” Zients said at the briefing on the IT reforms Thursday. “Government IT needs to be more agile, more responsive and more accountable to the citizens.”

Over the next 18 months, OMB will require agencies to implement several changes to process and move to new technology. It also will work with Congress and auditors to address issues such as flexible budgets and disparate and overwhelming oversight requirements.

Kundra highlighted some of the reforms last week including giving CIOs authority over their agency’s budget for commodity technology, such as e-mail, storage and infrastructure.

Along with the request to Congress for more budget authority, OMB wants CIOs to focus more on execution and less on policy. It plans on testing this flexible budget concept with the departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security and Interior, Kundra said.

“We will work with Congress to get agencies this flexible budget authority,” Kundra said. “It’s not fair to hold agencies accountable for what they will spend two years from now, and then hold them accountable for not doing what they said. These are structural problems. The technology cycle moves too quickly to work this way.”

Kundra added that the way the budget process works provides a perverse incentive for agencies to spend all the money they get or it will go away.

“We will work with Congress to create models to show how the budget aligns with modular development,” Kundra said. “Some agencies have flexibilities and authorities to do this, but they are not using or didn’t know they could use them.”

OMB also will provide agencies with a “playbook and guidelines” for how this flexible budget model would work.

OMB wants to “analyze existing working capital funds and transfer authorities to determine IT budget flexibilities currently in effect,” the document states.

Additionally, OMB wants to revamp the IT budget submission process where exhibit 300s and 53s will be simplified to reduce the burden, improve the accuracy of the data and enable modular or agile development.

Accountability is a common theme throughout OMB’s plan.

The administration wants expand the TechStat sessions to the bureau and department levels.

“Agencies have a number of bodies that they created to look at how projects perform, but they are too often toothless and don’t make decisions,” Kundra said. “With one agency, there were seven or eight layers before we found someone who knew what was going on and what to do about a troubled project.”

Kundra said having all those layers is harmful because no one ends up being accountable for the success of the program.

He said that is why the TechStat sessions will replace those investment review boards. OMB will work with CIOs and agency deputy secretaries to set up the review sessions.

OMB also will direct agencies to terminate or turnaround one-third of all troubled IT programs in the next 12-18 months, Kundra said.

“We want to be proactive and crack down on spending good money after bad,” he said. “We will provide the same tools we are using for the TechStat sessions for agencies to help manage the accountability.”

To do that, OMB is working with the Office of Personnel Management on making IT program management a career field, providing direct hirer authority to agencies and launching a best practices portal.

The departments of Agriculture and Treasury will pilot the program management career path. OMB also wants to launch a technology fellows program to partner with universities as well as create a rotation for managers and other IT professionals in the government to work with private sector companies how are not government contractors.

Kundra will work with Dan Gordon, the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, to develop guidance and templates to promote agile or modular development. The two offices also will develop and pilot specialized IT acquisition professional at DHS and Energy to learn and scale specialized skills needed to work on large programs.

All of this accountability, capabilities development and program and project management improvements will be tested over the next 18 months.

OMB wants agencies to identify three “must move” technologies that will go to the cloud by March, and move at least one of them by the end of 2011.

Agencies also will reduce the number of data centers by at least one-third, or 800, from the more than 2,100 they reported earlier this year by 2015.

OMB said agencies must “designate data center program manager…who will be 100 percent dedicated to and accountable for driving change.”

It also will “launch a data center consolidation task force of data center program managers, sustainability officers and facilities managers” to review the progress and ensure agencies are similar paths. OMB will create a public dashboard to track agency progress.

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