Asset tracking looms large

The Office of Management and Budget is considering grading agencies on how well they keep track of information technology and other assets, OMB's director said last week.

OMB wants to rate agencies on "asset management," which generally refers to maintaining a complete inventory of all capital and IT resources, from Coast Guard cutters to computers. The goal for any organization with asset management is to track where its money is going.

"Asset management is something else the federal government does a very poor job of doing," OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. said July 24 at a luncheon hosted by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. "I think that's a strong candidate to be added."

OMB would add the measurement to the management score card it unveiled in October 2001. The score card grades agency managers on how well they are meeting the governmentwide goals laid out in the President's Management Agenda, which includes five management areas: strategic workforce management, expanded use of e-government, increased competitive bidding, financial management and linking performance to budgets.

Asset management is "definitely an area where the government could do a better job," said David McClure, the General Accounting Office's director of IT management issues. "Is it worthy of the sixth category? I don't know. There are a lot of things that could be put on the table."

OMB officials said they would carefully consider adding asset management to the score card. "There are no more important problems or urgent dilemmas facing the federal government than the five we picked," Daniels said. "So we'll be careful before we add to that list."

Overall, agencies have fared poorly on the score card, which assigns a red, yellow or green light for each of the five areas. Red means an agency has met few, if any, of a management area's requirements, yellow means an agency has met some, but not all, of the requirements, and green means the agency has met all requirements.

Almost every agency has shown progress on at least one of the agenda items, but several are in danger of not meeting the goals they set for themselves, according to OMB's Mid-Session Review, submitted to Congress July 15.

NASA has demonstrated the greatest improvement. Sean O'Keefe, NASA administrator and former OMB deputy director, said he supports Daniels' idea of identifying asset management as another problem area. "I think he's on to something, and I look forward to seeing how it's developed," O'Keefe said.

Bringing in another category makes "good sense," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services at Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm. "It's getting that additional management visibility."

The federal government approaches asset management "haphazardly," Bjorklund said. "There are some agencies and pieces of agencies that do this exceedingly well, but most don't."

Experts pointed to the Navy's effort to create an enterprisewide network across its shore-based facilities as a case for asset management. The Navy Marine Corps Intranet has faced delays, in large part, because of the enormous amount of legacy systems the Navy must review.

"There are a lot of federal agencies that have been working hard at asset management over the years," said Randy Britton, a spokesman for Tally Systems Corp., an IT asset management software company. "The biggest problem they run into isn't technology — it's organizational. They have to sell the concept of asset management within all the departments."

But OMB also may be interested in asset management because it deals with budgets, McClure said. An inventory can lead to agencies identifying duplications and overlaps, which in turn can facilitate consolidations and cost savings, he said.

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A management puzzle

One of the problems the Office of Management and Budget will have in measuring agencies' progress in asset management is defining it, experts say. Many managers simply don't know what it means.

"Asset management can have a huge number of definitions," said Fred Broussard, a senior research analyst at IDC. "It seems to me there's still some confusion in the marketplace as to what [it] is."

Buildings, cars, hardware, ships — asset management "can include anything," said David McClure, the General Accounting Office's director of IT management issues. "One of the problems is defining what [it] means."

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