Flyzik: Declare victory and end the debate

Now’s the time to create a new governance structure for governmentwide IT programs

I had the opportunity to lead the information technology team during the Clinton administration’s National Performance Review and participate in the initial stages of developing e-government programs in the early days of the Bush administration. Although many of the players have changed, the important issues remain the same: What infrastructure and multiagency IT programs should be managed as governmentwide programs? And what are the respective roles of the General Services Administration and various other agencies in managing those programs?

We have a new GSA administrator, a new commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) and a new administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) at the Office of Management and Budget. Those executive-level changes have rekindled the debate about the roles of GSA and individual agencies in running multiple-award programs, infrastructure programs and governmentwide acquisition contracts. The new executives share a wealth of knowledge from experience with such issues. Perhaps it’s time to create a new governance structure to manage the governmentwide enterprise and declare a victory.

Now what does that mean? It means we don’t need to physically move IT programs and people into one agency to achieve economies of scale and more efficient government. We can declare that all government IT programs involving multiple agencies, viewed as a whole, represent the government IT enterprise. So how do we manage such a large, complex enterprise? By creating an IT enterprise governance structure.

The governance structure would consist of a board of directors led by the GSA administrator and the deputy director for management at OMB. The deputy agency leaders from the Cabinet-level agencies would all be members. An executive-level steering committee would make recommendations to the board of directors. That committee would include the GSA’s FAS commissioner; the comptroller general; the OFPP administrator; the administrator of e-government and IT at OMB; and an elected agency chief information officer, chief financial officer, chief human capital officer and chief acquisition officer. The existing CXO councils and their support structures would generate technology, funding and staffing strategies for the program.

Would that create more bureaucracy? No, it would be a mechanism to manage the government IT enterprise. We could end the debate about the role of GSA vs. agencies. This governing structure would manage all IT programs involving multiple agencies. It would not require shutting down individual agency programs. Agencies that run successful programs could become executive agents for different functional areas.

For example, consider some of the programs we are debating today. The Treasury Department could run its Treasury Communications Enterprise program as a subset of the overall government infrastructure enterprise. As GSA’s Networx program evolved, all the relevant players would already have been holding regular meetings. The synergies and opportunities for blending the TCE and Networx programs would become obvious.

The Homeland Security Department could lead the EAGLE program to support homeland security requirements. As Alliant moves forward, the EAGLE and Alliant programs could be viewed as complementary within the enterprise. Decisions about consolidation would become evident in time. The same would hold true for the National Institutes of Health's Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 2 Innovations, NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement and others.

Does this mean nothing changes other than calling these programs subsets of the governmentwide enterprise? No. What changes is the executive-level decision-making process. By viewing all multiagency IT programs as part of an overall enterprise, we can initiate a culture change. Having key players at the table discussing these programs instead of debating them in the media or in congressional hearings would inevitably lead to better decision-making about consolidation and streamlining.  Ultimately, cost savings and process improvements would be the results.

Look at the trends. Government continues to struggle with IT skill shortages and demands for better services from the taxpayers. Budgets are likely to remain tight, forcing more demands for consolidation, streamlining and more outsourced operations. I foresee the day -- it may be 10, 15 or more years from now -- when government agencies are focused on policy and programmatic matters while all government IT services supporting the agencies are provided as utilities by the private sector, with government oversight. It would be a good thing to have a strong, mature governance structure in place to manage this future enterprise.

Flyzik is a consultant and chairman of the Information Technology Association of America’s Homeland Security Committee. Before leaving government in 2002, he was vice chairman of the CIO Council and chief information officer at the Treasury Department.

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