Capital planning guides to help agencies manage IT Investments

An ad hoc interagency group of senior information resource, executives has drafted guidelines for managing future technology investments that agencies will have to follow if they want their IT systems funded.

Agencies that do not follow these guidelines "won't get money," said General Services Administration chief information officer Joe Thompson, because the Office of Management and Budget will not consider such IT plans sound.

The draft, distributed among agencies for comment over the past several weeks, is expected to become a new appendix to OMB Circular A-130 when the guide is revised this summer.

The guidelines urge agencies to treat their systems more as businesses do, by constantly reassessing the contribution technology makes to their missions.

"The business planning process carries with it continuous evaluation and measurement," said Thompson, who is leading the subcommittee that is writing the guidelines. "You should be able to track your spending and performance all the way through."

The proposal is among the recommendations the working group has made to carry out the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA).

The capital planning guidelines must be approved by OMB, but because OMB officials and IT executives from most agencies are helping to write them, few changes are expected after the group makes its final report in July.

Renato DiPentima, CIO with SRA Corp. and a former federal official, said detailed instructions for planning and monitoring technology investments are needed for agencies to make their case for funds. "That's not something you can do in a two- to three-page memo," he said. "Over time, you need to develop a pretty good process."

DiPentima, who had not seen the proposal, said a set of industry recommendations for ITMRA-based policies that he is helping to draft will note that, as in the private sector, government does not have "enough resources to chase everything."

Like their counterparts in business, he added, agency CIOs will need procedures for selecting the best possible systems projects.

According to the working group's proposal, agencies should, among other actions:

* Establish a strategic plan that outlines program and policy goals and determine how information systems support them.

* Build a "comprehensive approach to IT investment" that includes a consistent process for identifying important projects.

* Take an inventory of existing IT systems to determine how current investments are supporting agency functions.

* Set performance goals for projects, review whether these goals are being met, and fix or cancel projects that do not succeed.

Rather than describing specific procedures that agencies should use when making investment decisions, the proposed guidelines outline categories of steps they should take. The details should be left up to each agency, Thompson said, adding, "We are not going to be prescriptive."

ITMRA, which became law in February, takes effect Aug. 8.

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