OMB to release 'Capital Programming Guide'

The Office of Management and Budget said it will release this month its guidance that details how agencies can integrate management and budget into one process.

The "Capital Programming Guide" aims to help agencies better plan their budgets and get programs completed on time. David Muzio deputy associate administrator for procurement innovation at OMB detailed the guide last month at a General Services Administration-sponsored conference. The guide should help agencies apply many new laws such as the Government Performance and Results Act the Clinger-Cohen Act and the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act to budget requests.

The guide covers planning budgeting programming and management of assets. It stresses knowing the total cost of acquisitions and long-range planning within the budget process to achieve performance goals.

"We expect agencies to come with full cost of acquisitions up front " Muzio said. "We're willing to say a project should be terminated if planning is not accurate. If the budget is not sufficient [for a program] stop and go back. If you don't get a performance schedule that meets [requirements] stop and go back."

The guide should be useful for employees outside the Washington D.C. area and for those who need a good overview of the budget process said Richard Kellett director of emerging IT applications in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy. "It provides a good model of what is happening overall with the budget acquisition [policy] and new laws and gives [managers] a big foot in the door on how to manage fixed assets " Kellett said.

The guide also gives insight into OMB's A-11 Part 3 which requires agencies to track the costs schedules and performance of systems he added.

Paul Brubaker vice president for federal information services with Litton/PRC Inc. who saw an earlier version of the guide said it is "consistent with the spirit of the laws that have come down. I think it's something agencies are waiting for. If implemented properly it can make a huge difference in terms of managing capital investments and making decisions that are right for the agency."

In the planning phase agencies must look at how their purchases fit into a strategic plan. Agencies should not buy information technology simply because they want the latest equipment Muzio said rather they should buy systems because without them the agencies cannot meet their strategic plan requirements. Before and when an agency buys equipment it must validate its decision manage the risk track the costs of the work actually performed and manage the contract among other things. Agencies also should limit the amount of development work they do in-house Muzio said.

It is up to an agency head to decide if a program should proceed. "We're trying to get accurate information [in order to] make accurate decisions on whether to start or cancel a program " Muzio said.

In their budgets all agencies must justify any spending for new capital assets. "If a program will cost $5 billion we want that figure up front " Muzio said.

The bottom line he said is that agencies must realize they are operating in a new era. "Measure it twice because you can only cut it once " he said. "The budget is not flexible. Good management is not about guessing it's about knowing."

However the guide may be too late to help some agencies with their fiscal 1999 budgets for which the planning process already has begun. The Environmental Protection Agency for example already has run its fiscal 1999 budget numbers although it was familiar with the information contained in earlier versions of the guide.

"We have taken the content philosophy and methods in earlier drafts and integrated them into the process here at EPA " said Paul Wohlleben deputy chief information officer at the EPA. "I think the concepts it is based on are useful and important and it's something we need."

The fact that the guide has not been released until now did not affect the EPA negatively Wohlleben said. "The guidance is part of the overall process."

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