Congress to OMB: More oversight needed
Evans argues the task should not be a paperwork exercise
- By David Perera
- Apr 25, 2005
Office of Management and Budget officials should provide better oversight of troubled information technology projects, valued at $15 billion, congressional regulators say. But OMB officials argue that legislative branch proposals for better oversight would amount to another paper exercise for agencies to complete.
A Government Accountability Office report released last week states that OMB officials should make their management watch list of projects a formal tool for oversight and develop a process for ensuring that agency officials correct those projects. Karen Evans, OMB's administrator of e-government and IT, rejects the congressional watchdog's recommendations.
Each year, a dozen OMB analysts grade agency business case submissions, known as Exhibit 300s. Analysts classify programs as "watch list" projects if the projects' business cases receive low scores, although they don't aggregate them into a single watch list.
"In our opinion, the current follow-up that does occur may leave unattended weak projects consuming significant budget dollars," said David Powner, GAO's director of IT management issues.
House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) held a hearing on GAO's recommendations April 21. Davis said he favors having a single management watch list.
"Just having a list tracking these areas where you can go back gives a level of transparency and would make it easier to manage," he said.
Evans opposes the idea, saying that using the watch list as a formal oversight tool could have the unintended consequence of people "checking off the boxes and not really solving the problem."
Of the 1,087 major IT projects proposed for fiscal 2006, 342 projects, collectively worth $15 billion, scored low enough to be classified as watch list projects. Corrective actions taken this year have reduced that number to 248, Evans said. Officials with watch list business cases have until June 30 to submit corrective action plans.
OMB officials are completing new guidelines to clarify OMB's high-risk classification, Evans said.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) asked Evans why OMB was unable to prevent the failure of several high-profile projects, such as the FBI's Virtual Case File. "Looking at your operation, what do you think you could have done better ...or do you think you were perfect?" he asked.
Evans said earlier that OMB oversight focused on agency planning documents, such as the Exhibit 300s, and did not track implementations. "A lot of our activities are focused on planning," she said. "The failure of Virtual Case File was in the execution."
The Exhibit 300s present static snapshots of agency plans, Evans said. Business cases are primarily planning documents and do not measure the actual execution of agency projects, she said.
But Davis said, "We can blame the agencies, but at the end of the day, it starts and stops with OMB."
Earned value management entails using a 32-point checklist to measure project performance against project milestones. OMB officials use it to ensure that troubled projects are monitored, Evans said.
Exhibit 300s require project managers to provide details of their program and risk management methods, Evans said. But earned value management provides data. "You take all the planning numbers that you said in your business case, and then you have to track your output, your execution," Evans said, talking to reporters outside the hearing room.
"Is the outcome for us to get the result that was described in the business case or is the outcome to get good business cases?" she asked.
David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.