OMB targets fixes for mission critical IT projects

Tuesday - 8/24/2010, 6:19am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Office of Management and Budget is throwing a lifeline, of sorts, to some of the most troubled and yet mission-critical federal technology projects.

Just days after completing a review of some of the most at-risk IT projects as outlined in a July 28 memo, federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra Monday unveiled a list of 26 high priority projects, which he calls mission critical, and which will receive top-level attention at the 15 agencies in the weeks and months ahead.

"This list was established in coordination with leaders at these agencies who are all invested in the success of their high-priority programs," he said during a teleconference yesterday. "The programs we've identified are mission critical. We believe their objective remains as important as ever. As such, we want to speed up, and simplify the execution of these programs. This isn't about killing projects, it's about making them work better and faster."

Kundra said agencies will develop plans of action and milestones for each of their projects and OMB will review all 26 projects, which are worth about $30 billion, before deciding how much to fund them in 2012. OMB did not include any of the financial systems projects, which it is looking at separately, on the list.

The high priority list includes a number of well-known, and almost infamous IT projects that have given CIOs under several administrations gray hairs.

Starting with the Office of Personnel Management's long-pending project to fix the system that manages federal worker retirement benefits.

"The Retirement Modernization Project has met with many challenges over the last 23 years with four attempts made to modernize at a lifecycle cost of $136 million," said Matt Perry, OPM's CIO, who was part of the OMB conference call. "This is a highly paper-based project that we're trying to modernize. It has many complex business rules, as it impacts peoples' retirements as we go through this process."

Vance Hitch, CIO at the Justice Department, also tried to explain why the FBI Sentinel project made the high priority list.

"It's the (FBI's) investigative case management system," Hitch said. "This is a highly-complex program involving significant business process re-engineering of the overall process. It has four phases, two of which have already been delivered. However, cost and schedule delays were experienced in the second phase, so the FBI has temporarily halted the project in terms of the delivery of phases three and four."

Bernie Mazur, the CIO at the Interior Department, outlined why his agency's e-mail modernization made the list.

"We have an issue with e-mail, where we have a complex array of 12 different systems, owned and operated by 12 different offices," he said. "And often times, it's difficult to have a single directory of department users, and we're subject to issues of undelivered mail, and frequent confusion over that."

Mazur said with the help of OMB, they hope to move the Interior Department to "a single solution" for their electronic mail.

Another agency with a project on the high priority list is the National Archives and Records Administration, whose Electronic Records Archives program has had a long history of troubles.

In response, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said in a statement, "We welcome the priority attention that the Federal CIO is giving ERA as it nears the completion of its development. I share the CIO's concern that a relatively small number of Federal agencies are currently using the system. Contingent on fiscal 2011 appropriation of funds for the remaining development, NARA anticipates that by mid-2011, the system will be ready for use by all agencies and that by the summer of 2012 use of ERA will be required for all federal agencies to transfer their permanent electronic records to the National Archives."

Kundra said other federal IT projects that are still undergoing TechStat review at the agency level, but which do not meet standards for "project scope defining clear deliverables and mission-oriented outcomes" will likely be dealt with in the 2012 budget that is now in the early stages of preparation. In his late July memorandum, Kundra vowed that "projects which do not meet these criteria will not be continued."

In addition, Kundra credited the assistance of senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) for recently helping to review projects on the high-priority list. Carper, who is the chairman of a subcommittee which oversees IT projects, said in a press release, "I commend the Obama administration for prioritizing IT investments that are essential to securing America's borders, delivering medical care to our veterans, and making government more efficient."

The Senate recently approved Carper's bill, S. 920, which would codify many of the administration's IT reform efforts. That legislation is now pending in the House.

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