A-11 revisions stress planning

Circular A-11

An increased emphasis on enterprise architecture within agencies and across government is a key feature of the revised policy for information technology investment and capital planning that the Office of Management and Budget will release later this month.

The revisions to Circular A-11, the document that defines investment policies and requirements for the federal government, will eventually lead agencies to work out the initial plan for IT and e-government investment governmentwide, officials said.

For the fiscal 2004 budget, OMB did much of the work to match agencies' requests against the federal enterprise architecture (EA) to determine, and potentially eliminate, redundant investments. But for the fiscal 2005 budget cycle, OMB will ask agencies to make those matches and work with other agencies before submitting their requests, said William McVay, a senior policy analyst in OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

OMB developed and will maintain the federal EA business reference model as part of the Bush administration's e-government strategy. The A-11 revisions also include further definitions of e-government and e-business systems, which will help agencies get a better grasp on developing mission-based business cases for information systems, McVay said.

"This does not mean that the entire federal government has been doing [investment] all wrong over the last few years. Just the questions are different," he said June 4 at the National Academy of Public Administration's Performance Conference in College Park, Md.

Experts and even OMB officials agree that the most immediate challenge will be at the agency level.

Agencies don't know how to write business cases and work within EAs very well at this point, McVay said. OMB will continue to work with agencies on the details, including endorsing the use of tools such as the Enterprise Architecture Management System being tested by many agencies, he said.

Because of the disparity in capabilities among agencies, not all agencies will be able to work on their own for the fiscal 2005 budget process, said John Spotila, former administrator of OIRA and now president and chief operating officer of GTSI Corp.

"There's not necessarily going to be a transformation on a political timetable," he said.

The changes do not reflect any radically new ideas, however, he added.

"This really continues a very positive approach that extends back at least to the Clinger-Cohen Act...to get agencies to adopt a more systematic, integrated and thoughtful approach to IT capital planning," he said.

The revisions show that OMB is serious about using the budget to put management processes in place in agencies and across government, said Bruce McConnell, a former chief of information policy and technology at OMB and now president of McConnell International LLC, a marketing and consulting firm.

"To the extent you can use the budget to shape programs, this is the way to go," he said.

But the lack of experience at agencies will need to be addressed, and the issue of enforcement will definitely come up when OMB attempts to penalize agencies for not following the EA plan, McConnell said. "Some of these programs, you can't just cut the funding," he said.

Congress definitely will have something to say about any cuts or holds on funding, and OMB officials must enlist the full cooperation of the authorization and appropriations committees on Capitol Hill, Spotila said. Even then, because of the differences in agencies' capital planning capabilities, change will happen in small steps, with some agencies progressing faster than others, he said.

"You have to acknowledge the political reality and try to work the process and accept incremental gains," he said.

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Why planning matters

The Office of Management and Budget will issue revisions to Circular A-11, which states OMB's policy for information technology and capital planning, later this month. OMB officials say better management of agencies' investments is necessary because:

* Federal IT investment for fiscal 2003 totals $52 billion. Out of that total investment, 1,000 "major" projects worth $18 billion require business cases.

* Some $9 billion in those "major" projects still need their business cases approved for fiscal 2003.

* The remaining $34 billion worth of IT projects do not require a business case and, at this point, have little or no visibility in the investment planning process.

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