OMB scores high on EA

Even some of OMB’s frequent critics say the White House agency has been an effective advocate of enterprise architecture

If analysts wanted to assess the influence of the Office of Management and Budget’s enterprise architecture efforts of the past five years, they could study the Housing and Urban Development Department.

HUD reduced the amount of its improper payments by $2 billion in the past four years, in large part, officials said, because the department, guided by its enterprise architecture, made smarter budgeting and spending decisions. One of those decisions, they said, was to integrate an older housing voucher eligibility system and a new Enterprise Income Verification system, which uses state data to provide wage and unemployment information to public housing agencies.

“EA drove our decision to lay the EVI on top of the legacy system and reuse it,” said John Cox, HUD’s chief financial officer. “We have built EA into our budget and investment review functions and into our active projects review.”

HUD’s new capability for reducing improper payments is a measure of OMB’s success in promoting enterprise architecture concepts governmentwide, Cox said. Current and former federal officials credit OMB, especially Richard Burk, retiring chief architect at OMB, for institutionalizing EA and bringing its discipline into agencies’ core programs and business operations.

Experts, on and off the record, gave OMB more than just a passing grade for its advocacy and support of enterprise architecture.

“I would say the EA undertaking by OMB has been very successful,” said Con Kenney, the Federal Aviation Administration’s chief architect. “The government is large and complicated, and there is tremendous diversity among agencies. OMB saved agencies a lot of work by developing the reference models as a conceptual framework for describing what government does.”

OMB created five reference models focused on business, service component, data, technical and performance areas to initiate the enterprise architecture effort, and in the past two years, it succeeded at bringing enterprise architecture into agencies’ core programs and business operations, Kenney said.

OMB’s Federal Transition Framework provided a conceptual basis for agencies to understand how cross-agency initiatives, such as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, OMB’s lines of business or the governmentwide mandate to use IPv6, fit into their enterprise architectures. Under Burk’s leadership, OMB required agencies to develop segment architectures for specific lines of business. Architects define a segment architecture as a subset of a complex enterprise architecture.

The business case
OMB’s strategy of enforcing discipline in business and program operations began with the executive agency urging agencies to use their enterprise architecture plans as a basis for their budget requests. Bill McVay, a former OMB analyst who is now an executive vice president at G&B Solutions, said that when OMB added enterprise architecture requirements to its fiscal 2002 budget guidance it was the first time many agencies began to use such concepts. But, he added, it wasn’t until OMB required agencies to develop segment architectures that agencies could clearly see the value of using enterprise architecture to guide their capital planning.

Cox said enterprise architecture’s value for HUD rose sharply in the past three years. It helped the agency centralize its systems, particularly its e-mail servers, all of which now run Microsoft’s Outlook. “The specific technology is less important than making it easy and simple for multiple programs to use the same technology,” Cox said. “That is what EA is all about.”

Others say the common language of the federal enterprise architecture’s reference models has made enterprise architecture a useful decision-making tool.

George Thomas, the General Services Administr
tion’s enterprise chief architect, said having an enterprise architecture plan — and using it — has improved electronic
information sharing among GSA’s strategic planner, enterprise architect and capital planner. “That alone is a tremendous contribution to the business of government,” Thomas said.

Michael Farber, a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, said OMB’s work on enterprise architecture has made it a familiar phrase in the vocabulary of federal officials on the technology and business side of government.

“We are seeing agencies think globally and act locally,” Farber said. “We also are starting to see a shift [toward] agencies wanting the IT [group] to demonstrate results and value and the EA to support answering those value questions.”

Other successes
Experts point to many areas in the federal government where enterprise architecture has made inroads. In structuring the $50 billion Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract, GSA used the federal enterprise architecture as the basis for what it asked vendors to bid. Burk described that contact as a significant milestone for enterprise architecture because it requires that agency task orders and vendor proposals use the federal enterprise architecture’s language and conform to its framework.

“In many ways, Alliant using the FEA tells me it is institutionalized in agencies,” Burk said.

Others point to the influence that the federal enterprise architecture has had on information sharing. Venkatapathi Puvvada, Unisys’ chief technology officer, said the federal enterprise architecture, especially its data reference model, has been a catalyst for information sharing because it created a common taxonomy.

“The cross-agency initiatives were the first wave of collaboration, and without the FEA, it would have been hard to do,” Puvvada said. “The FEA simplified everything.”

Although many experts agree that OMB’s federal enterprise architecture reference models have benefited the government, some current and former federal officials say OMB has not done enough.

One agency chief architect, who requested anonymity, said OMB officials did not document or coordinate the models as well as they could have. The architect said the models should be more dynamic, especially in terms of representing interconnections among agencies.

“The federal government should be able to gather information more quickly to solve problems when a crisis occurs,” the architect said. “That is what the FEA should do for everyone, but we are not even close.”

The chief architect added, however, that many of OMB’s shortcomings can be attributed directly to Congress’ lack of support. The architect said OMB’s federal enterprise architecture program management office has been consistently understaffed and underfunded.

“The lack of funding has hampered the maturity of the FEA,” the architect said. Without a stronger governance or assessment structure at OMB, the departments are free to do whatever they want to do, the architect said.

Other critics say the shortcomings lie primarily in the reference models and not in the overall framework. The data reference model appeared promising, they say, but OMB has not released a management strategy that would help agencies use the model.

Burk said OMB is in the final stages of completing a management strategy for the data reference model, but he wouldn’t estimate when OMB will issue it. The management strategy refers to a how-to guide that OMB planned to issue at the same time it released Version 2 of the data reference model in November 2005.

Mike Tiemann, former Energy Department chief architect who is now chief executive officer of EA Werks, described the data reference model as a masterful construct, but, he added, OMB never told people how to use it, what to use it for or why it is important.

Burk, however, said the data reference model didn’t necessarily require a management guide from OMB. Agencies went ahead on their own, he said, a
d are using the model, especially for information sharing.

Burk said the remaining four reference models are slowly gaining a footho
d. The performance model will be useful for agencies that participate in OMB’s Infrastructure Optimization Initiative Line of Business, he said. The CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee is developing a guide for using the service reference model to develop a service-oriented architecture.

Randy Hite, the Government Accountability Office’s director of IT architecture and systems issues, who is frequently critical of the government’s IT performance, said OMB must be clearer about how it determines whether an agency program and the agency’s enterprise architecture are properly aligned.

A continuum
Agencies, for the most part, treat enterprise architecture too simplistically, Hite said. “It is a continuum, and it needs to be analyzed and translated for decision-makers so they can evaluate risk at any time during the project.”

Nevertheless, even Hite is in the camp with others who say OMB’s leadership on enterprise architecture has made a difference.

“Up until three years ago, the ability to look across the government’s range of investments and identify duplication and overlap didn’t exist,” Hite said. “The leadership team in there now has driven a lot of this and deserves a lot of credit. We’ve seen positive progression architecturally from a content, use and governance standpoint, and that coincides with OMB’s leadership over the past three years.”

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