IT feds ready to advise District of Columbia

When the District of Columbia financial control board hires a consultant to develop an information resources management plan for the city federal agencies are likely to be called on to help.

"We expect to participate in the cross-cutting IRM discussion" that was mandated in the balanced-budget bill that Congress enacted last month said G. Edward DeSeve the acting deputy director for management with the Office of Management and Budget. "We will provide whatever assistance is appropriate."

Advice on how the district should manage its information systems is part of a range of assistance that the federal government has been providing to its troubled home-town government which has been attacked for among other problems using antiquated technology. During the past two years as the control board has taken over more of the city's operations DeSeve said he has brokered several agreements with agencies to help the district with problems ranging from procurement to financial management.

Recently he said OMB helped the control board define its requirements for a new financial management system for the city including how to structure the system's solicitation. "We gave them the benefit of things like the `Raines' rules' and the process we use for capital program acquisition " DeSeve said. Raines' rules named for OMB director Franklin Raines are a set of questions that agencies are supposed to answer to show their that information technology programs are justified.

DeSeve said the control board is expected to award a contract for the new system "very soon." Calls to the control board requesting more information about the award and other IT-related work that the district plans with the federal government were not returned.

Although federal state and local governments work together on many programs the help that federal agencies are providing to the district is unique said Bob Greeves a Vienna Va. consultant who specializes in intergovernmental issues. Most state and local governments "don't feel like the federal government understands their situation " he said.

"The physical closeness of [the district and the federal government] is probably as much a factor as anything else" in their relationship Greeves said. "The fact that the D.C. government is an absolute mess [means] there's got to be some people in the federal government that can help them if they're willing to take the help."

Renny DiPentima president of SRA Federal Systems and a former federal IT executive said federal agencies have faced some of the same challenges that the district now faces. "With the downsizing in the federal government that really is what made IT over the last five years such an important focus " he said. "I think that describes the district as well. They have to turn to IT to make themselves more efficient."

DiPentima said advisers such as the federal Information Technology Resources Board which details agency IT managers to help other agencies with difficult IT projects could offer the most help to the city but agencies should refrain from taking over any district computer operations. "That isn't an issue yet " DiPentima said but vendors would object if the federal government became a "subcontractor" to the district for services that could be done by the private sector.

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