EPA offers business case guide

Circular A-11

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are implementing an interactive guide to help information technology and business executives put together complete business cases for their IT systems

Having a "logical, uncomplicated and timely" process to develop business cases is critical now that the Office of Management and Budget has expanded the requirements for agencies to receive good scores on their business cases, said Debra Stouffer, chief technology officer at EPA.

The EPA will start using the new step-by-step guide with the fiscal 2005 budget development process, Stouffer said, adding that EPA plans to start developing its business cases at the beginning of the fiscal year instead of cramming to answer questions and putting together budget requests in a few months.

Last year OMB revised its Circular A-11, the document that outlines all the required information for agency investments, including IT investments. The changes expand the business case requirements to favor collaborative projects and to require agencies to form integrated project teams made up of IT and business officials to work on the business cases, said Bill McVay, senior policy analyst at OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The revisions also change the definition of a "major" system, so that more e-government and IT modernization initiatives must submit business cases.

In the fiscal 2003 budget -- using the old A-11 requirements -- only eight out of the more than 1,300 submitted IT business cases received a perfect score, McVay said. OMB officials are just now beginning to go through the fiscal 2004 requests under the revised A-11, so there is no way to tell yet how agencies did with the new process, but business cases will still be coming in and changing until President Bush submits his budget to Congress in February, he said.

The EPA guide starts with the integrated project team idea, and it leads agency officials through creating an abstract concept for the project, to developing performance measures, and checking the project against EPA's enterprise architecture and OMB's Federal Enterprise Architecture and e-government efforts, Stouffer said. This is all done even before the project reaches the initial "go/no-go" decision point.

After that, the integrated project team must go through more detailed steps, including analyzing alternative projects to reach the mission goal, detailing security and privacy measures, and outlining an acquisition strategy.

According to the timeline outlined in the guide, agency officials and program managers will know by the end of May whether the project has been cleared internally to be included in the September budget submission to OMB.

Each step builds on the ones before it, making it easier to fill in information because it was gathered to answer previous requirements, Stouffer said. And by using the same process for every project, officials will know exactly what they need in order to get their projects through internal checks and make it more likely that OMB will approve their requests, she said.

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