Agencies, Congress prepare for ITMRA

President Clinton signed an executive order last week outlining in broad strokes the responsibilities for chief information officers and rules for setting up "interagency support structures" so that agencies can coordinate, exchange ideas on and set standards for information technology projects governmentwide.

The order laid out basic principles on how agencies should carry out provisions in the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA), which takes effect Aug. 8, including principles that agencies should follow in creating CIO positions.

"Agencies now have the clear authority and responsibility to make measurable improvements in mission performance and service delivery to the public through the strategic application of information technology," according to the order. "A coordinated approach that builds on existing structures and successful practices is needed to provide maximum benefit across the federal government from this technology."

The executive order was written in the spirit of ITMRA, which is designed to shift responsibility for IT management from the General Services Administration to individual agencies, said Carl Peckinpaugh, a lawyer in the government contracts section of Winston & Strawn, Washington, D.C., and a Federal Computer Week columnist.

"The fact that the executive order passes through the minimum language in directing agencies in what to do is not a surprise," Peckinpaugh said. "It's minimalist. It reflects an intentional hands-off approach."

Agencies expecting more guidance from OMB on IT management and CIO responsibilities will be disappointed, Peckinpaugh added. "Will OMB provide additional information?" he asked. "No, this is it. It's OMB's expressed plan to let agencies have as much discretion as possible. That's why there's not much here."

As expected, the order links IT management to agency missions and budget formulation, makes agencies more accountable for IT projects by appointing a CIO and requires agencies to develop performance measures [FCW, July 15].

The key principles of the order include making agency heads ultimately responsible for IT projects and directing agencies to appoint CIOs who are "not only responsible for technical but functional aspects of IT," said John Koskinen, deputy director of management for OMB.

Another key principle, Koskinen said, requires agencies to apply three measures to IT projects:

* Should the agency continue to perform the function under consideration?

* If so, can the private sector or another agency perform the function better?

* Is the project designed to be the most efficient?

The executive order also outlined the structure of the CIO Council, which will provide a forum for CIOs to share best practices in IT management and procurement and consider proposals for governmentwide IT standards and architecture.

The council will have 58 members, including the CIOs and deputy CIOs from departments and major independent agencies.

The order also codified two operational IT interagency committees, the Government Information Technology Services working group and the Information Technology Resources Board, both of which will work in concert with the CIO Council.

GITS, which was set up under the National Performance Review and will become the GITS Board (GITSB), will be a "free-form group" in which members brainstorm on IT solutions.

"They'll be doing 'skunk work,' " said Koskinen, referring to an old intelligence-community term used to describe the process of developing creative high-tech solutions to problems.

GITSB also will serve the functional areas of government, offering cross-government solutions, said Jim Flyzik, telecommunications director for the Treasury Department and chairman of GITS.

"The CIO Council will help GITSB to create a vehicle that will give GITSB initiatives visibility," Flyzik said. "They're designed to complement each other."

ITRB, which was formed by former General Services Administration chief Roger Johnson as part of the Time Out program, will provide advice to agencies and OMB on specific IT projects that are unusually complex.

Ron West, CIO for NASA and one of the few agency CIOs already appointed, said the primary advantage that the council and boards provide "is an exchange of ideas to get better, faster, cheaper systems.... This is really going to help the agencies tremendously."

* * * * *

Midnight Madness

On Aug. 7, when the clock strikes midnight, many information technology business processes and procurement rules will vanish as the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA) takes effect. Here is a list of what will be abolished, according to a letter sent out last week by the Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation at the General Services Administration.

* Federal Information Resources Management Regulation (FIRMR), eliminating GSA's governmentwide IT regulations. Agencies still are required, however, to use the FTS 2000 program.

* IT Delegations Program, requiring agencies to receive a delegation of procurement authority from GSA for large IT projects. All contracts established under Brooks Act DPAs will remain in effect until modified or terminated by an authorized party under ITMRA.

* Information Resources Procurement and Management Review Program.

* Federal Information Resources Management Review Program.

* Automatic Data Processing Equipment/Data System - OMB will require agencies to conduct an inventory of equipment in use and a separate accounting of excess equipment.

Responsibilities transferred from GSA to other agencies include:

* Federal ADP and Telecommunications Standard Index and the Federal Telecommunications Standards, both of which go to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

* IT Sharing Program, which will become the responsibility of some other organization yet to be determined.

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