Sprehe: Being overly simplistic

Federal enterprise architecture principles treat government as one entity. Who are they kidding?

The Office of Management and Budget recently issued architecture principles for the federal government that invite commentary on what the principles say and how they say it.  

The principles display wondrous oversimplification.

Consider the principle that states the federal government is a single, unified enterprise. This ludicrous statement makes you wonder what they have been smoking at OMB. They cannot be talking about the same government we encounter daily in its enormous diversity, with agencies often working at cross purposes.

Similarly, to state that the government exists to offer services and information to the public reduces to platitudes the rich complexity of what federal agencies do.

I find it particularly curious that the principle of security and protecting information appears before we learn that information is a national asset. What a perfect mirror of the government mindset after the 2001 terrorist attacks. First, we secure a thing and then we try to figure out its value. Surely, it ought to be the other way around.

The rationale and implications of information as a national asset also invite comment. Here’s an administration that makes headlines each day for refusing to divulge information to Congress and the public, yet it invokes the dictum that a well-informed citizenry is essential to democracy. Have these people no sense of irony? The implications of information as a national asset all relate to information sharing. The chronic disaster in government is a failure to manage information well and create an enduring marriage between information technology management and information management.

However, the principles are silent on managing information as an asset.

Speaking of information sharing and the government as a single enterprise, someone should pass the word about that policy to the Army. In August, the Army clarified its information sharing policy to say that, notwithstanding existing intergovernmental data-sharing agreements, the service will make decisions about data sharing on a case-by-case basis.

The principles ask us to believe that the program simplifies government operations and is designed to reduce complexity and enable integration. Despite the upbeat OMB-think rhetoric, most agencies see those principles as a new budget-cutting device. This is one way OMB identifies the IT systems it considers duplicative and blocks funding for them. Is that simplification? No, the principles introduce a new layer of complexity.

The architecture principles show a rosy view of the world is alive and well at OMB. Their enunciation, however flawed, is praiseworthy.

Yet the business-centered vision at their core will probably fade when the current administration leaves office in 2009, so the principles are hardly timeless.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.  

About the Author

Tim Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington.

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