OMB: Where the buck stops

The Information Technology Management Reform Act codifies two very sensible ideas: Agencies' IT programs will have a greater chance of success if planners must show what kind of a return new systems will produce for their missions, and purchasing strategies should be tailored as much as possible to users' needs.

But there are no guarantees that agencies will always exercise their best judgment as they take advantage of their new freedom. For the new law to truly succeed, the Office of Management and Budget must be willing to stop spending money on programs that don't meet its standards.

And despite the best intentions of the current administration, there are concerns that OMB may not have the resources needed to examine the soundness of agencies' IT spending proposals. Budget examiners are already stretched and may have difficulty adding this new responsibility to their plates.

OMB has always had the power to deny funds to poorly performing systems. But political realities often mean there are programs the White House has kept funding despite glaring evidence of agency mismanagement—the FAA's Advanced Automation System, to name the most obvious.

OMB and agencies alike must demonstrate that they will guard and preserve the trust that taxpayers have vested in them. As supporters of the new law have taken pains to point out, it's now much easier to see where the buck stops.

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