OMB-centric world

At the recent Interagency Resources Management Conference in Hershey, Pa., a reader said that GCN’s coverage of the Office of Management and Budget had intensified noticeably in the past year.

He was right. That’s because OMB’s paw prints cover every major IT initiative, not merely the 24 e-government projects.

Different eras have brought different oversight or policy agencies to the forefront. At one time, the General Services Administration stood at the center of all things IT when it had, in theory, authority over every major systems project.

Later, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy focused a lot of reform effort on IT acquisition, and the National Performance Review generated excitement over improving service to the citizen. That period was followed by the ascendancy of the CIO Council for a couple of years.

Currently, OMB is mandating enterprise architectures, cross-agency development and capital planning. Agency people are being recruited repeatedly for short tours of duty at OMB—for various tasks such as reading agencies’ business case submissions. OMB is also strongly suggesting technical means for achieving e-government by actively pushing Web technologies.

In the meantime, CIOs, whose roles have never fully matured as envisioned by the Clinger-Cohen Act, seem to be on the sidelines as OMB reaches out directly to program, technology and financial managers.

Oh, the CIO Council is still active. After all, OMB’s Mark Forman, the associate director for IT and e-government, is its chairman. CIOs appear at all the conferences and rubber-chicken events.

But many CIOs, relegated to consulting status, still have little say over bureau and agency initiatives or budgets. At the proposed Homeland Security Department, for instance, the CIO won’t report directly to the secretary, as Clinger-Cohen requires.

“The Clinger-Cohen Act may be the most violated law in the federal government,” lamented one CIO during IRMCO.

That might be an exaggeration, but OMB won’t be able to sustain this level of intensity forever. When it inevitably slacks off, agencies will need a corps of strong CIOs to keep sound IT management going.

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