OMB lays out plan to improve IT management

Friday - 11/19/2010, 7:13pm EST

WFED's Scott Carr

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Jeff Zients, chief performance officer and deputy director for management, OMB

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WFED's Jason Miller and Scott Carr on the DorobekINSIDER

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By Scott Carr
Producer
Federal News Radio

The Obama administration has spent the first two years focusing on how to make certain pieces of federal information technology management work better. Last Friday, Jeff Zients, the Office of Management and Budget's chief performance officer and deputy director for management, detailed the bigger picture.

Zients outlined a five-part restructuring plan that includes developing a specialized group of IT acquisition professionals, mandating agencies move to cloud technology first and stick to firm target dates to consolidate their more than 2,000 data centers.

"These reforms will enable us to move away from the grand design, boil the ocean approaches of the past to the agile, modular approaches that have transformed the success rates of IT projects in the private sector, by breaking projects into manageable chunks and demanding functionality every few quarters, not every few years," said Zients during a speech before the Northern Virginia Technology Council in Vienna, Va.

Zients said the administration's ambitious restructuring plan of how the government manages IT includes:

  • An alignment of budgets and acquisitions with the technology cycle.

  • Improvements in program management, in part through the development of an IT program manager career path.

  • A streamlining of governance and accountability measures.

  • An increase in the lines of communication between agencies and the private sector.

  • A shift toward lighter technologies and shared solutions, including a greater use of cloud computing - and moving away from proprietary, custom IT projects.

Zients said the way government currently budgets for and acquires IT is "broken." He said the appropriations process forces agencies to specify in detail what they're going to build 24 months before they even start a project, and the acquisition process routinely tacks on another 12 to 18 months. This, he said, effectively locks agencies into specific technology solutions that are out-of-date before the project starts.

Zients pointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs as a successful management model that needs to be scaled across government, in which IT managers are able to make final decisions on technology solutions at the point of execution and have the flexibility to move investments within their portfolio.

OMB will take two immediate steps to improve program management, coordinating with the Office of Personnel Management to create a first-ever formal governmentwide IT program manager career path.

Zients said this will help government attract and develop a professional corps of IT program managers. Additionally, OMB is asking agencies to hardwire effective program management teams into their organizational structures.

"Going forward OMB will not green light a major IT project until an agency's senior leadership has signed off on it and a complete, integrated and co-located project team is in place," Zients said.

He added that the $158 million included in the 2011 budget will be available to increase the capabilities of the acquisition workforce to better handle complex IT acquisitions.

Another structural change is streamlining governance combined with an increase in accountability. Before a project reaches Congress or the Government Accountability Office, Zients said the current system often requires cumbersome layers upon layers of oversight.

"They create a false sense of security and delay difficult decisions," he said.

As part of a new culture of accountability, OMB also will work to reshape federal investment review boards.

In an effort to increase communication between agencies and the private sector, Zients has called on OMB's Administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Dan Gordon to lead a "myth-busting campaign" to publicize clear guidance for how agencies should engage with industry in order to find innovative solutions to resolving IT issues.

OFPP also will develop a plan to insure broader industry collaboration to help agencies effectively manage projects throughout their lifecycles.

Zients also announced that OMB completed the reviews of 20 financial management system projects. OMB determined that 10 were on track; the scope of five projects were significantly reduced; meaningful functionality was accelerated for three of them; and two were terminated.

Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra said he will hold an open meeting on Dec. 9 to discuss the execution of actions plans that address these changes. Additional details are to be announced by OMB by Dec. 14.

Zients also said vendors should hold his office accountable for getting these structural changes in place, and to embrace an equally aggressive change agenda within the IT industry.

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