A new road map to e-gov

FEMA's IT plan built with budgeting, 'customers' in mind

Although it's one of the smaller agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency looms large in efforts to develop long-term information technology architectures.

FEMA was one of the first to establish an agencywide IT architecture after the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 became law. The Office of Management and Budget held up FEMA's version as a model for other agencies.

But FEMA officials didn't stop there. They went on to produce what they call IT Architecture Version 2.0, "The Road to e-FEMA," which also appears to be of interest to others in the federal government. Available on FEMA's home page, the plan was downloaded nearly 400 times on a single day in July, said Vern Adler, the head writer of the plan. That may not be the download rate of Stephen King's e-book "The Plant," but then again, the FEMA plan's not exactly a page turner. However, it is a road map to the future for the disaster mitigation and response agency—a future in which officials clearly believe e-government efforts will figure prominently.

"The emphasis is trying to use the framework [of ITA 2.0] to take FEMA into the true e-government environment," said G. Clay Hollister, FEMA's chief information officer and associate director of the IT Services Directorate.

ITA 2.0 calls for building on successful e-government initiatives, including the National Emergency Management Information System, an enterprisewide application that has disbursed more than $4 billion in disaster grants electroni.cally since it went online in 1998. New e-grant systems, a major focus of ITA 2.0, might include the use of electronic signatures, electronic submissions and monitoring for compliance with the Government Performance and Results Act.

Already, financial management and emergency coordination, hazard mitigation, human services and infrastructure support have been integrated with FEMA's e-grants program. Urban search-and-rescue programs will be next, followed by counterterrorism efforts.

ITA 2.0 also calls for moving away from the creation of stand-alone documents and toward the use of an enterprisewide, searchable digital library.

FEMA officials began working on the new IT plan about a year ago. They see it as an architecture other agencies can use as a benchmark for their own plans, Adler said, adding that FEMA welcomes questions about the project from other agencies.

Unlike the original plan, the new arch.itecture will be a factor in the all- important area of money, said Ed Kernen, director of FEMA's management division. "We have been looking at integrating it with our agency's strategic budget thinking process."

Or, as Hollister put it, "It's what we'll use internally to fight for money in the [fiscal 2003] budget."

To develop ITA 2.0, officials sought input from "customers" through.out the agency and from upper management. They talked with FEMA employees about their interests and concerns early on and made sure the final product reflected those, as well as the e-government goals the Bush administration has set, said Paul Krueger, FEMA branch chief of IT policy and strategic requirements.

"You have to have your customers involved every step of the way," Krueger said. "It loses its credibility [if it's seen only] as something that comes out of the IT shop."

It's not unusual for an agency's ambitious plans to end up collecting dust as "shelfware," but FEMA officials are taking measures to ensure that doesn't happen to ITA 2.0, said Deputy CIO Ron Miller, who will take over as CIO when Hollister retires this fall. The involvement of agency users and leaders will help the plan become a reality, Miller said. But just to be sure, a six-member team composed of employees from across FEMA is designing a strategy to implement the plan.

The key, Miller said, is not to treat an IT architecture plan as a simple checklist to ensure compliance with the law, but to view it as a road map that will guide the entire agency.

As Hollister said, "We take it seriously here."

MORE INFO

E-gov milestones

Version 2.0 of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Information

Technology Architecture lists a number of technology goals likely to play

a major role in helping FEMA achieve its e-government vision.

They include:

* Enterprise geographic information system integration.

* An advanced call center or integrated voice-response system.

* A next-generation emergency operations center.

* Wireless networking technology.

* Virtual private networks.

* Distance learning and training support systems.

* Exercise planning, execution and evaluation.

Source: FEMA

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