IT management reform: Here's the plan

OMB unveils 25-step plan for running a government agency -- well

The Office of Management and Budget continues to beat the drum for IT management reform with the unveiling of a 25-step plan to keep government programs from riding off the rails.

The plan, announced Dec. 9, fleshes out the five structural reforms that the Obama administration announced last month. Each of the plan’s action items is broken down into six-month deadlines to ensure that the government is making progress.

The reforms include significant changes to the CIO's role, a new drive to choose cloud computing solutions whenever possible and a reduction in the number of federal data centers.

OMB officials are also focused on cleaning up existing problems and said they plan to fix or kill a third of underperforming IT projects in the next 18 months. For example, they announced Dec. 8 that they were pulling the plug on a program at the Homeland Security Department that would have automated the processing of flood insurance claims.

The new plan seeks to improve how the government funds, staffs and manages IT projects.

Tim Young, a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting, said he believes agencies share the goal of improving outcomes through technology. However, the key challenge is sustained implementation — bridging strategy to planning to implementation to operation, he said.

As part of the plan, major IT programs will not receive funding unless they have a dedicated program manager and fully integrated product team. The programs also must use a modular approach and deliver new functionality every six months, and specialized IT acquisition professionals must support them. 

The administration is also seeking to change the budget process so IT programs will have the flexibility to take advantage of technology advances and modular development. Such changes will require the cooperation of Congress, and Young said lawmakers must be convinced that the payoff is worth the effort.

Furthermore, federal CIO Vivek Kundra said the plan seeks to ensure that agency CIOs and the CIO Council have the appropriate authority and oversight to focus on execution and portfolio management, not just policy. In the next two months, Kundra said, he will meet with deputy secretaries and CIOs to begin to fundamentally change the role of agency CIOs.

Kundra said the administration is also shifting to a cloud-first policy governmentwide in the next 18 months and aims to reduce the number of federal data centers by at least 800 by 2015.

In addition, OMB officials are challenging agencies to take a new approach to acquisition and said they must do a better job of communicating with vendors before contracts are awarded.

That’s something agencies generally shy away from to avoid accusations of favoritism or giving a winning contractor an unfair advantage. But Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said such conversations are good.

“We’ve got to be integrating from Day One,” Gordon said.

He also said he would work with those who oversee the acquisition workforce — the inspectors general, ethics officers and agency attorneys — to make sure government employees know their boundaries when talking to industry representatives.

“We have to see what we can do, not only what we can’t do,” Gordon said.

25 Points of Reform

The White House's 25-point plan for reforming IT acquisition and management is organized under six headings.

A: Apply Light Technology and Shared Solutions

  • Complete detailed implementation plans to consolidate at least 800 data centers by 2015.
  • Create a governmentwide marketplace for data center availability.
  • Shift to a cloud-first policy.
  • Create contract vehicles for secure infrastructure as a service.
  • Create contract vehicles for commodity services.
  • Develop a strategy for shared services.

B: Strengthen Program Management

  • Design a formal IT program management career path.
  • Take that IT program management career path governmentwide.
  • Require integrated program teams.
  • Launch a best practices collaboration platform.
  • Launch a technology fellows program.
  • Allow IT program managers to move across government and industry.

C1: Align the Acquisition Process With the Technology Cycle

  • Design and develop a cadre of specialized IT acquisition professionals.
  • Identify IT acquisition best practices and adopt them across government.
  • Issue contracting guidance and templates to support modular development.
  • Reduce barriers to entry for small, innovative technology companies.

C2: Align the Budget Process With the Technology Cycle

  • In conjunction with Congress, develop IT budget models that align with modular development.
  • Develop supporting materials and guidance for IT budget models.
  • Scale flexible IT budget models more broadly.
  • Consolidate commodity IT spending under the agency CIO’s authority.
D: Streamline Governance and Improve Accountability
  • Reform and strengthen Investment Review Boards.
  • Redefine the role of agency CIOs and the CIO Council.
  • Implement the TechStat model at the bureau level.
E: Increase Engagement With Industry
  • Launch a myth busters education campaign.
  • Launch interactive platform for prerequest for proposals industry/agency collaboration.

About the Authors

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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