OMB, CIOs: Raines' rules require time

The Office of Management and Budget and agency chief information officers have concluded that they need more time to apply "Raines' rules " the set of criteria that OMB director Franklin Raines wants agencies to use to formulate their information technology budgets.

At a meeting of the Chief Information Officers Council last month agency and OMB officials agreed that the three-week scramble by agencies last fall to rewrite their IT budget requests helped them think about how to plan systems strategically. But they also reported that next year they are likely to end up with more substantive results.

"Raines' rules...have helped me to communicate better throughout the department what the new requirements are " said Ann Thompson Reed CIO at the Agriculture Department. "Having said that I think we're on the front end of beginning to put in place the systems and processes that will enable us to fit into those rules."

Raines issued the IT budget guidelines in October asking agencies to report back to OMB with planning data that examiners could use to formulate the fiscal 1998 budget. Federal IT officials considered the policy a strong signal that OMB was serious about enforcing the management approach of the Clinger-Cohen Act which demands agencies tie their information systems investments to specific operating goals.

John Koskinen OMB's depu-ty director for management and chairman of the CIO Council said the data agencies provided led to "more detailed conversations" with some agencies about their IT budget proposals but the results of those talks may not be "very obvious" in the Clinton administration's budget proposal which is due for release this week. "The real focus of the [Clinger-Cohen] Act is to have better decisions made within the agencies " he said.

Koskinen said the crash course in new budgeting methods showed that some of OMB's program examiners need to learn more about how to use the information agencies supplied. "We're working on getting them up to speed " he said.

Paul Wohlleben deputy CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency agreed that most of the benefits derived from the rules would be more noticeable in the next budget cycle. "People understood that the timing and the benefits we would gain from this particular initiative would be minimal compared [with next time] " he said.

Christopher Hoenig director of information resources management policies and issues with the General Accounting Office and a CIO Council member said that overall agencies seemed to be taking the criteria seriously. He added that at least in some cases agencies that have faced pressure from Congress to control IT spending seemed more willing to fully adopt Raines' rules than agencies that were subjected to less scrutiny. "I think it highlighted the whole issue of how important it is to have a forcing device for change " he said.

"We've been working on this effort since before the Clinger-Cohen Act was passed so we felt we did have a leg up " Reed said. Last year USDA put a moratorium on its IT spending while it developed strategic planning documents.

There was some discussion at the meeting about whether Raines' rules which favor systems that can provide high returns with minimal risk can apply to all information systems investments. This was of particular concern to agencies that do scientific research.

"When you make an investment in an R&D system it's very difficult to say what the return is going to be " said Donald Andreotta deputy CIO at NASA. "Risk is another thing that's very difficult to talk about on an R&D project [because] by its very nature it has a very high degree of risk " he added.

Koskinen said Raines' rules would be refined over time. "We have to make sure we're asking the right questions and make sure we're requesting the right information " he said. "[Agencies] ought to be producing information for us that they produce for themselves."

One area where Koskinen said the criteria need to be more clear is how agencies are to make their systems consistent with overall government information architectures. "We never defined what we meant by architecture " he said. "It's a concept that most agencies haven't really had."

The Clinger-Cohen Act requires that agencies produce a comprehensive systems architecture and the National Performance Review has promoted the idea that agencies' systems should be interoperable. The CIO Council has formed a subcommittee on interoperability chaired by USDA's Reed that plans to study these issues.

Meanwhile another subcommittee on capital planning and investment control has scheduled a workshop this week to discuss practices for planning and managing systems. Raines' rules "are the questions you ask up front " said Wohlleben who is organizing the event but agencies still need to learn more about how to tie their IT planning and budgeting procedures together.

Featured

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.