OMB turns up heat on 2005 IT plans

These may be the dog days of summer, but federal information technology and budget officials are busy putting the final touches on the fiscal 2005 budget requests that are due to the Office of Management and Budget Sept. 8.

This year, OMB's budget process requires agency executives responsible for budgets, programs and IT to work together more closely than in the past. Agencies are being asked to explain more precisely how their IT spending will support the achievement of agency missions.

In addition, OMB is trying to connect IT spending with its agency performance assessment process, which will cover 40 percent of agencies' programs this year.

"We want some clarity on how the agency IT investment links back to the program performance improvement priorities, so we've asked for them to make that explicit," Mark Forman, administrator of OMB's Office of E-Government and Information Technology, said in an interview.

In another new wrinkle, Cabinet departments and other agencies must submit a single business case covering their spending on infrastructure, telecommunications and office automation, rather than separate justifications for investments in each bureau.

Forman said this change will make it clear that departments' chief information officers have responsibility for these elements of the IT budget. It will also increase information sharing within agencies. "If you don't do an enterprise approach here, the different elements of your department can't communicate with each other," he said.

Business cases are submitted on the infamous Exhibit 300 form, which is used for major capital spending plans. For their IT spending, agencies also must complete Exhibit 53, which covers a number of legislative and regulatory requirements such as privacy considerations, accessibility, paperwork elimination and information security.

This year, OMB is telling agencies to submit their 300s with their budgets. "In some agencies, it's pretty integrated; when they make their budget decisions, they also make their IT investment decisions," Forman explained. "In other agencies, it's clear that they don't recognize that this is part of budget decision-making, so we've asked that they send those as part of the budget submission package to the White House."

The IT budget also is increasingly integrated with the emerging federal enterprise architecture. The 2005 budget guidance calls for agencies to show the links among their IT spending and the four reference models that make up the enterprise architecture.

"In the big scheme of things, the whole business case process that we've been putting in place, with Exhibit 53s and the form 300s, are focused on the chronic problems that we identified in the President's Management Agenda," Forman said.

Paul Strassmann, a consultant who has been acting chief information officer of NASA and director of defense information at the Pentagon, said OMB isn't pushing hard enough. "The federal government doesn't have any cost reduction targets," he said. "It's moving in the right direction, but they have a long way to go."

The business cases and Exhibit 53s have caused some griping within agencies, but many observers give OMB high marks for the budget process changes. "I think it's exactly the right thing to do," said James Kane, president and chief executive officer of Federal Sources Inc., an IT market research and consulting firm focused on the federal market.

"The Exhibit 300s, which are the business cases, really lay out what you are trying to accomplish" and how the agency will manage the project and the risks, Kane said.

Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, said her organization's members had generally positive reactions to the changes.

In the end, Forman said, the budget process reflects a principle from Management 101: "What gets measured tends to get focus from the agencies, so we're really focused on how we're spending the IT investment."

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Making the connection

The Office of Management and Budget is requiring federal information technology and agency executives submitting fiscal 2005 budget requests to explain more precisely how their IT spending will support the achievement of agency missions.

As part of the planning, agencies must:

n Show the links among their IT spending and the four reference models that make up the emerging federal enterprise architecture.

n Submit a single business case covering their spending on infrastructure, telecommunications and office automation.

n Submit business cases online for Exhibit 300, the same form used for major capital spending plans.

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