New IT strategy taking shape

Reinventing is out, measuring outcomes is in, and squeezing money from existing IT projects may be the only way to fund future ones.

That is the emerging information technology strategy under the Bush administration, according to a group of deputy chief information officers.

"There is a different focus, for sure, with the change of administrations. We've moved from planning to results and performance," said Debra Stouffer, deputy CIO for IT reform at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "The administration's focus is clearly on outcomes."

Agency secretaries appointed by President Bush are "results-oriented rather than process-oriented," agreed Brian Burns, who is deputy assistant secretary for information resources management and deputy CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services.

They are also budget-oriented.

"The budget [for IT programs] is not growing," said David Nelson, NASA's deputy CIO for IT security.

As a result, projects are forced to compete, each trying to "present the best business case" to merit funding, Stouffer said. And managers hoping to start new IT programs will have to wring savings out of existing programs to pay for them, Burns said.

Burns, Stouffer, Nelson and Kim Taylor, deputy CIO at the Transportation Department, spoke during a June 26 meeting of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

The emphasis on performance is not new, said Clinton administration official John Spotila. "The last administration was very much focused on outcomes." What's new is "a big emphasis on saving money. It comes right from the president."

"In the past, people looked at information technology as a way to save money." But now, the Bush administration is suggesting that IT spending should be curtailed. "That is probably short-sighted," said Spotila, who was director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget.

For the agencies caught in the Bush IT budget squeeze, one technique for coping is consolidating IT operations, the deputy CIOs said.

Agencies are increasingly interested in enterprise systems that permit better coordination across agencies or even across the government, Stouffer said. NASA plans to do more with collaborative teams and systems that work throughout the agency, Nelson said. The space agency has developed as "quite decentralized," but NASA managers have concluded it cannot continue to operate that way, he said.

At HHS, "we're moving from a model of interoperability to a model of integration," Burns said. Among other things, the agency hopes to consolidate computer networks and bring greater order to its 8 million Web pages and its sprawling array of Web sites.

The Bush administration's approach provides new opportunities for companies that sell IT services and products to the government, the deputy CIOs told an audience dominated by technology vendors.

HUD encourages vendors to be proactive and suggest solutions to agency IT problems. In one recent solicitation, the agency decided not to describe in detail the work it wanted done, but focused instead on the outcome it wanted, Stouffer said.

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