Education reform taps IT

The Education Department released a plan last month designed to correct long-standing management problems — including information technology mismanagement— by identifying specific tasks and deadlines for achieving them.

The Blueprint for Management Excellence — announced by Education Secretary Rod Paige, other top department officials and Council for Excellence in Government President Patricia McGinnis — spells out how Education will address numerous management problems that have accumulated over the course of several years, according to the document.

Those problems have included fraud and abuse by department employees, an inability to obtain a clean audit in each of the past three fiscal years, the continual presence of the Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs on the General Accounting Office's list of high-risk government programs, and poor IT security and management.

The new plan should help turn things around. "The blueprint contains an action plan for putting the department's management and financial house in order," Paige said. Improving IT management is one of five areas the plan focuses on. Under IT, the plan calls for improvements to how projects are planned and reviewed.

By fiscal 2003, Education officials want to conduct business with customers online as much as possible, have their financial statement audit in line with IT management laws, and conduct procurement and program data reporting online, according to the plan.

In addition, Paige said upgrading and deploying the department's new financial management system, Oracle Corp.'s Federal Financials, is a high priority in ensuring financial integrity. The upgrade is scheduled to be finished by January 2002.

A management improvement team, described as a "SWAT team" of senior department managers, was formed in April to develop the blueprint. The team's co-leader, Phil Maestri, said that many of the IT-related goals included in the plan were already in the works.

However, by having the attention of Paige and by being included in the blueprint, IT plans should be "taken more seriously" and "move along faster," Maestri said.

The department asked the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government to help formulate and review its plans, and last month McGinnis hailed the blueprint as a "powerful vision of excellent performance" with "tangible goals."

Deputy Secretary Bill Hansen, who will lead a new executive management team that will be responsible for making sure the blueprint's goals are achieved, said the release of the plan is only the first step toward improving management at Education. Developing the plan represents "turning the ship around," he said. "Now is not a time to pause."

Practice steps

Improving information technology management is one of five areas the Education Department is highlighting under its management blueprint. Under IT, the plan calls for:

* Putting an enterprise architecture in place.

* Reviewing, approving and prioritizing important IT investments.

* Publishing a data dictionary.

* Certifying and accrediting general support systems and major applications.

* Completing remedial actions identified in Government Information Security Reform Act reviews and critical infrastructure protection assessments.

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