OMB lifts hood on agency systems

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A peek inside

Office of Management and Budget officials, who have been pressuring agencies to stop spending money to duplicate others' systems, are simplifying the process for making that a reality.

A governmentwide database debuting this month will give agencies a cross-government glimpse into programs and solutions at other agencies. For the first time, the Federal Enterprise Architecture Management System (FEAMS) will allow agencies to seek common solutions and areas of collaboration, rather than wait for OMB officials to point out the opportunities after budget plans are submitted.

"It's very cool that agencies can look in the eyes of OMB and compare to other agencies and maybe even take some information and do some what-ifs," said Scott Bernard, director of enterprise architecture at DigitalNet LLC. "It's like lifting the hood" of a car to see the engine.

The idea is to give agency officials the necessary information before they finalize business cases. Using fiscal 2005 Exhibit 300 data mapped to the federal enterprise architecture's five reference models, agency officials can look along common lines of business for similar technologies or applications, said Bob Haycock, OMB's chief architect. Opening the system for agency use in mid-March should coincide with the early stages of fiscal 2006 budget preparations.

"If we can get this in their hands further upstream, they can actually identify those opportunities and put together joint investment requests," Haycock said.

Yet, for some agencies, the FEAMS rollout may be a little late to have a major impact on the fiscal 2006 budget process. John Gilligan, Air Force chief information officer and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Architecture and Infrastructure Committee, said regional officials have already begun preparing their budgets and will be presenting them to Air Force leadership early next month.

OMB officials have been using the system for a couple of years, entering and searching agency information, Haycock said. FEAMS is based on a system developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said.

Although the system has long been anticipated, officials said it's better that OMB fix any potential problems now. Also, FEAMS program manager David Layton said the system is based on the evolving business case process and the reference models, each of which are in varying stages of maturity.

"OMB is incorporating lessons learned on that process," he said. "The challenge has been to keep FEAMS aligned with the evolving and dynamic changes to the Exhibit 300 process."

Kim Nelson, CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency and co-chairwoman of the committee, said EPA staff have been using the system in the pilot phases and have seen the benefits. They found the system "easy enough to use and ready to roll out," she said.

EPA officials were already looking across the agency for collaboration, and FEAMS allows them to stretch beyond those boundaries, changing the definition of the enterprise. "We look at the enterprise differently," she said. "It's now the federal government."

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