GAO urges unified e-gov plan

"Information Resources Management: Comprehensive Strategic Plan Needed to Address Mounting Challenges"

The Office of Management and Budget must develop a true, detailed, long-term information management strategic plan if agencies are to adapt successfully to their growing dependence on technology, according to the General Accounting Office.

The multiple documents OMB designated to serve as the governmentwide strategic plan each address portions of the information resources management requirement under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, but there is no single, unifying vision for agencies to follow, according to a Feb. 22 GAO report.

Without top-level attention from OMB and a plan to help measure performance and determine long-term resource needs, "the mounting challenges that the government faces in managing information may not be met," said the report, which was prepared for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

However, OMB does not feel that a single strategic plan could provide any better oversight or guidance for agencies than the policies and documents already in place, OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. wrote in a letter to GAO.

OMB has designated the CIO Council's strategic plan for fiscal 2001-2002, supplemented by policies issued by OMB over recent years, as the governmentwide strategic plan.

According to the GAO report, the council's plan does not provide sufficient details on goals, how those goals link to improvements in agencies' performance, what long-term resources are needed to reach the goals, and what progress has already been made.

The OMB policies and guidance also only address parts of the strategic needs, and because they are not integrated or made formal in any way, they do not clearly communicate an information management vision for the government, the report states.

This lack is particularly apparent in the post-Sept. 11 environment, because "as agencies have struggled with issues involving intelligence gathering, information sharing and dissemination, security, and information technology, it has become increasingly apparent that our government needs to better assess — from a strategic standpoint — all aspects of how it handles information," the report states.

The e-government strategy outlined in the President's Management Agenda and the additional e-government information in the fiscal 2003 budget request represent the first credible attempts at a governmentwide strategic plan, according to GAO. Those documents include the first discussion of how the government will use IT to improve agency performance, identify specific goals and strategies, and provide agency-by-agency status information.

GAO acknowledged that auditors completed the report prior Feb. 27, when the administration released its E-Government Strategy. That document outlines the strategy and milestones for the 24 cross-agency e-government initiatives to be implemented over the next two years.

GAO will continue to monitor the budget and all other documents pertaining to a governmentwide information management strategy, the report states.

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