Interoperability key to CIO plan

The CIO Council this month voted to adopt a plan for a governmentwide information technology architecture designed to help agencies meet a mandate to align computer systems with agency business and mission needs.

The plan is identical to a draft plan the CIO Council floated earlier this summer in which a detailed overview of a single federal architecture was not provided. Rather, the plan presents a model that agencies can use to find specific technologies that may overlap with common business practices, said Michael Tiemann, chairman of the CIO Council committee that authored the plan.

"There's not embedded within this any specific model to mandate solution X, Y or Z for the entire federal government," he said. "The architecture of the enterprise is the enterprise. Ultimately, you are essentially documenting the entirety of the enterprise and its purposes. That's pretty critical for the survivability of the enterprise."

The model, called the Federal Enterprise Architecture Conceptual Framework, is designed to provide a mechanism to link agencies' architecture development to an overall federal architecture development so that information can be shared across agencies and the federal government can reduce IT spending and support agency capital and acquisition planning.

Linking these agency efforts is designed to eliminate the federal government's tendency to develop parallel systems without collaborating with other agencies on issues such as interoperability, said Alan Proctor, a member of the CIO Council's liaison support group.

"It's an empty model," Proctor said. "It's a vehicle for...moving ahead and developing standard approaches in particular business areas."

For example, Proctor noted that agencies looking at public-key infrastructure (PKI) technology to secure electronic commerce could use the model to ensure that their technology will seamlessly interoperate with other agency PKI architectures while taking advantage of research other agencies might already have performed.

If agencies use the model, the council hopes it will result in the convergence of agency infrastructures so that agencies can share data, such as common data repositories. The council also hopes that use of the model will lead to less government spending on IT overall.

Agencies are required by law to create IT architectures that ensure the alignment of IT solutions to agency business practices and missions. Proctor said the Office of Management and Budget plans to refer agencies to the architecture plan in an update of a policy directive.

OMB officials could not be reached for comment.

Bill Greenwalt, professional staff member on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, said the Clinger-Cohen Act, which he helped to write, was geared toward fostering a common agency architecture.

"We had so many systems that couldn't talk to each other," he said. "To do that on a govern-mentwide level— it seems rather ambitious. But it sounds like a step we should be taking. The concept seems to fit really well with Clinger-Cohen."

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