Revamp plan combines business planning, IRM

The Agriculture Department has completed a draft information resources management modernization plan that includes the possible appointment of a department chief information officer (CIO), an executive board and a senior-level technical council.

Anne Thomson Reed, deputy assistant secretary for administration at the USDA, said the recommendations aim to tie in business planning more closely with IRM and to provide a single point of coordination.

"We all have the potential to change the way we allocate resources to better integrate IRM with business needs," Reed said at a recent Association for Federal Information Resources Management meeting. "One of my concerns was the sense that we were focusing on the pieces of the puzzle without understanding how it all fit together."

As now envisioned, the modernization plan has the executive board taking responsibility for program requirements and matching IRM with business resources, while the technical council will decide the best way to make that happen, Reed said.

The technological council would be co-chaired by the department CIO, who would also be secretary to the executive board. It has not yet been decided to whom the department CIO or the agency CIOs would report.

The majority of the USDA agencies, Reed said, have already appointed their own CIO.

The IRM modernization plan, which the USDA has been working on since September, is in response to critical General Accounting Office and General Services Administration reports and to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman's intention to make IRM modernization a priority, said David Skeen, associate director of policy for IRM.

"It allows us to take a fresh look at USDA IRM resources in terms of how well we were doing and the direction we were taking to better align the way USDA works," Skeen said.

Also in the plan is a recommendation to use the Government Performance and Results Act process and to develop incentive-based strategies for IRM.

"We recognize that we have a lot of cultural change that needs to take place, and we need to provide those opportunities [to allow it to happen]," Reed said.

The USDA also plans to establish a set of technological architectures—such as an enterprise architecture and application systems architecture—to guide systems and telecommunications integration so that agencies adhere to the same standards. The department will also improve IRM project management specifically for large USDA contracts and promote the idea of lead agencies spearheading programs they have a particular expertise in.

Overall, there will also be a change in the focus and structure of the office of IRM, something that has been approved in concept.

The idea is to align the administration of the department around policy and operations instead of functional areas such as IRM and personnel.

Don Hardesty, acting director of IRM, will head up IRM policy and report to the assistant secretary for administration. The director of operations should be finalized within the next week.

"I think the change is timely, and the IRM modernization plan will support this change in organization," said Skeen, who will be assigned to other areas.

The department will release a final copy of the modernization plan once the secretary has signed off on it.

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