OMB pushes agencies to share funds

The Office of Management and Budget is asking agency CIOs to give up control of their most valuable resource: money.

In a memo sent this month to agency CIOs and investment review boards, OMB asked systems chiefs to develop joint IT project business cases for fiscal 2004 on initiatives in which agencies have common needs.

Mark Forman, OMB’s associate director for IT and e-government, said in the memo that sharing IT investments will save money and speed implementation of the President’s Management Agenda.

By sharing funds, agencies will receive less separate funding for IT projects because costs will be reduced. This goes along with Forman’s call to buy technology once and use it many times.

“For e-government, joint business cases make perfect sense,” said Mayi Canales, acting CIO of the Treasury Department. “By funding e-government initiatives across agency lines and pooling money, we will get the best bang for our buck.”

CIOs and former federal officials said agencies must overcome obstacles to this approach, which OMB has never used before.

Two former OMB officials from the Clinton administration cautioned against setting expectations too high for the effort.

“This is a huge stretch to get done in 2004, and it will be difficult,” said John Spotila, a former administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and currently president and chief operating officer of GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va. “Agencies will gravitate to the low-hanging fruit because those are the easy things to get done.”

Bruce McConnell, former OMB chief of information policy and technology and current president of McConnell International of Washington, said there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration, but OMB has set some lofty goals.

But Canales dubbed the decision to call for joint business cases a no-brainer. She said the biggest obstacle will be to come up with the mechanism to get agencies to share information about what they are working on. “Treasury, for instance, does not know what Justice will spend its money on,” Canales said. “The CIO Council is focusing on how we can see each agency’s planned investments and what makes sense to fund across agency lines.”

Looming deadline

To be used for 2004 budgets, such a mechanism needs to be in place by Sept. 9, the deadline for agencies to submit joint business cases. OMB has asked for lists by Aug. 21 of potential interagency projects. By Aug. 23, OMB plans to review the lists and let agencies know the projects for which it will expect joint business cases.

“Submitting the joint business cases will help agencies collaborate better,” said Laura Callahan, deputy CIO for the Labor Department. “Our big challenge is to learn how to work across traditional boundaries, and the business cases will help us have the discussions we need to have.”

In the memo, Forman said agencies should use the recently released business reference model to find agencies with similar lines of business.

“All ongoing projects must undergo an e-government strategy review as part of the agency’s capital planning process,” the memo said.

Canales said the CIO Council and OMB also will examine IT business cases, known as Form 300s, submitted for this fiscal year to find common functions.

A source from the General Accounting Office, who asked not to be identified, said finding common areas will be the most difficult part of putting together the business cases.

“The concept is a good thing, but the business reference model only helps agencies understand who is doing the same process,” the GAO official said. “A lot of times there are not enough common functions to pull this off.” The source said using Form 300s to identify candidates for joint projects might not work well because agencies do not fill out the forms consistently.

Many observers said agencies likely will focus their first attempts at developing joint business cases on the 24 Quicksilver e-government projects because agencies’ overlapping efforts on those projects have already been identified.

Canales said Treasury is working on shared investment cases for Project Safecom and Online Rule-making—both Quicksilver projects—as well as a law enforcement distance-learning initiative. She also is providing information for 13 other business cases for e-government initiatives.

“I don’t know of any CIO who isn’t working on two or three joint business cases,” Canales said.

Spotila said many agencies likely will be reluctant because they are afraid of budget cuts. He said agencies might list projects that they know will not get funded otherwise or functions that they do not want to handle anymore such as payroll or human resources.

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