Agencies see IT Dashboard as starting point

Friday - 9/17/2010, 7:14am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Office of Management and Budget's IT Dashboard provides a level of transparency few agencies have experienced before. But for Malcolm Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency's chief information officer, it only tells part of the story.

Jackson, who has been EPA's top technology official and associate administrator for environmental information only for about two months, said he wants to dig deeper into the projects to figure out how EPA improve them.

"We have a good team at EPA and they have their arms around our projects," he said during a panel discussion sponsored by AFCEA Bethesda, Md. chapter Thursday morning in Bethesda, Md. "We have a decentralized model and it's not as efficient as it could be. The dashboard provides information at a high level and I want to be more granular."

Jackson said the more specific information his office has, the more directed the conversations about each of these investments can be to ensure money and resources are being spent appropriately.

"I want to really dig into things," he said. "One of the challenges I see with the Dashboard is it's at such a high level it doesn't allow me to manage things at the level I need to be able to manage it to have the type of affect I want to have."

EPA has 21 programs worth almost $374 million listed on the IT Dashboard, mostly providing services to citizens or management of government. Jackson gave his projects an overall rating of 7.4 out of 10, a rating for meeting cost goals of 8.2 and a rating of 8.8 for meeting schedule goals.

"What we want to do is put a process in place that feeds the OMB process, but digs in a little deeper," he said. "As an example, OMB just looks at the total cost of a project. We will break apart those projects. We will break it down from support costs, new development costs and in fact we also will look at enhancements as well. What I want to do is look for ways to drive down support costs, challenge teams to go out and find ways to drive down their overall support costs."

Jackson said he also wants to look at development costs more closely. He said there needs to be more rigor in the process where the agency would cap how much money they want to spend on enhancements and then have a steering committee oversee that spending.

"All projects over $3 million, we've got 21 of those within the EPA," Jackson said. "What we are going to do is we are instituting a process where we will be reviewing each of those projects on a quarterly basis. We are looking at what OMB is using in terms of their dashboard and we will dig a little deeper. We don't want to create additional work."

Other panel members shared Jackson's desire to do more with the IT Dashboard.

John Teeter, the deputy CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the Dashboard created a standard language governmentwide to talk about projects. And HHS and the Food and Drug Administration are using that common language from the Dashboard to review and oversee FDA's MedWatch Plus on the Office of Management and Budget's high priority technology project list.

"We have begun to monitor things with the Dashboard at the investment level," Teeter said. "IT is really managed at the project level. There is going to be an inherent conflict or added complexity as you pull all of that together and roll those projects up to the investment level."

To help deal with that added complexity, HHS has developed a enterprise performance lifecycle applied at the project level. Teeter said business owners must address certain things, such as measuring performance using different criteria during different phases of the lifecycle, during the development and operations phases of a system.

"This is an area where we all need to apply more focus," Teeter said. "That is did this investment actually deliver the program benefit it intended to deliver when it was initiated. Many times technologists tend to say 'we've implemented the project so our job is done.' But we don't circle back with that performance loop and ask if we have provided the value to the program originally intended. That misses an opportunity to tweak what has been down or evaluate if the ongoing support costs are warranted."

Darren Ash, the CIO of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the Dashboard has helped non-technology officials focus on projects.