Game Time: Can Bush’s playbook deliver results?

At the nexus of the Bush administration’s policy agenda for 2003 is IT.

It’s a focus on which the government expects to spend upwards of $52 billion to meet the president’s demands. On the list—driven by a public that expects online service 24-7 and a world where data sharing could keep the country one step ahead of terrorist threats—are a series of initiatives that have been fleshed out but not delivered over the past year.

At the Office of Management and Budget, a core team created since Bush took office in 2000 has its eye on making the government a 21st century organization—one that can provide services seamlessly and electronically, be they sales at Defense Department commissaries or student loans from the Education Department or the approval of new drugs by the Food and Drug Administration.

To focus its e-government efforts, OMB launched the Quicksilver program. Under this initiative, it is sponsoring 25 interagency e-government projects. In the coming year, the programs will move from deploying basic systems to measuring the performance of the projects, their missions and their technology use, said Mark Forman, OMB associate director for IT and e-government.

OMB’s performance measurements, Forman said, will be based on both program and customer perspectives. OMB will look at cost, progress and overall execution of the projects and assess technology factors such as systems reliability and security.

“Last year, we were building a lot of things,” he said. “This year, we are getting into re-engineering systems and migrating to a governmentwide solution.”

Beyond the 25 projects, Forman said the implementation of the E-Government Act of 2002 would provide an impetus for removing barriers to other online efforts across government.

Project funding will no doubt complicate the efforts. A recent General Accounting Office study of Quicksilver found the initiatives would likely run short of funding to the tune of $249 million this year.

OMB also will be demanding that agencies’ systems programs fit within a governmentwide IT architecture the administration has been mapping out. While preparing their fiscal 2005 budget requests, agencies for the first time will have to match their missions against defined performance outcomes.

Moods for models

To help agencies do that, OMB’s Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office plans to complete a number of reference models within the next few months, including the performance model and Version 2 of the business reference model, said Norman Lorentz, OMB chief technology officer.

Lorentz said OMB also will expect agencies to use the performance reference model to assess the results of the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects.

“We are put in a position for the first time to provide guidance and expect outcomes,” he said. “It is not an easy thing to do, but it is a reasonable expectation to have a clear articulation of results.”

OMB will require agencies to integrate their capital planning and enterprise architecture plans and mesh their agency-specific blueprints with the broader federal architecture model, Lorentz said.
The development of the enterprise architecture plans should facilitate systems interoperability and data sharing, also administration IT priorities.

“Absent an enterprise architecture, you’re basically stumbling around in the dark,” said Michael Farber, principal with the IT strategies and solutions group of Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Va.
The technology comes next. “The technology is there, but what about the 15 other major things you’ve got to think about,” he said.

Scott Snover, project manager for the Agriculture Department’s Common Computing Environment, said putting information online is one of the best ways for agencies to share it. Snover sought multiple avenues for sharing information while he was working to bring thousands of USDA data centers nationwide onto one network.

“Everybody talks about sharing information, but if I go to a Web site, I can get access to information very easily,” he said.

Sometimes interoperability of software is important, he said: Documents at one agency need to be compatible with documents used at other agencies.

“It used to be frustrating to get a document from someone using WordPerfect,” Snover said. “There are translators and filters, but for the true sharing of information in a useful form, even today, you need the same tools.”

Farber said Extensible Markup Language is one of the keys that will let agencies start creating registries and repositories of shareable data.

XML will “allow different databases to access the information so that the user is working with data, and they don’t have to deal with formatting and reporting issues,” Snover said.

The ability to quickly locate and share data is among the top goals of the agencies that will form the new Homeland Security Department. It faces a pivotal array of decisions as it looks to shape the IT backbone of its operations. The first task the agency faces is setting up a departmentwide e-mail system and establishing portals for internal and external use.

“Once they have secure communications, agency members no matter where they are housed will feel they are one, and will begin to have cohesion and esprit de corps,” said Dan Burton, vice president of government affairs for Entrust Inc. of Dallas.

Under the Homeland umbrella

Other sources pointed to secretary-designate Tom Ridge’s task of crafting a budget proposal for fiscal 2004—a process that will bring to a head potential conflicts among the 22 agencies being brought under the Homeland Security umbrella.

The administration’s goal of creating the department by finding cost savings in its component agencies already has attracted opposition.

Meanwhile the architects of the new department’s systems will be working to modify business processes and networks that have been carrying out disparate homeland security tasks since 2001, said Darryl Moody, vice president of community and infrastructure for BearingPoint Inc.

“It will be tricky to implement migration strategies without stopping day-to-day operations,” Moody said. “While we are implementing the best border security operations, people and commerce still have to flow.”

In 2003, the IT work force crisis will take an interesting twist because of the creation of the new department.

At least 40 percent of the staff under the Treasury Department’s chief financial officer and two-thirds of the Transportation Department’s staff will move to Homeland Security.

The White House’s Office of Homeland Security said many of the new department’s agencies will also need additional staff from their subagencies.

Norm Enger, the Office of Personnel Management’s e-government project director, said he is developing estimates of how many workers are needed in four critical professional areas at the new department.

Enger plans to see how many criminal investigators, procurement specialists, attorneys and computer engineers will be needed at Homeland Security. To do this, he is using the Army’s Workforce Analysis Support System and Civilian Forecasting System. Although a lot of the focus in the coming year will be staffing the new department, OPM will continue to market the government as a modern, high-tech employer and increase efforts to attract and retain IT workers.

Ira Hobbs, deputy CIO at Agriculture and a member of the CIO Council’s Work Force and Human Capital for IT Committee, said that giving managers greater flexibility and looking more at workers’ capabilities rather than their job classifications are progressive tools that the government developed in the last year and can put to use now. The CIO Council also plans to sponsor another virtual job fair this year, following its success with the online recruiting technique last spring, Hobbs said.

While the government will expend effort to fill vacant systems posts, it will also put renewed emphasis on outsourcing work that’s not inherently governmental—and more and more often, agencies consider operating and managing systems among such work.

With the release of the final revised OMB Circular A-76 imminent, agencies will find the next year one of the busiest yet when it comes to competitive sourcing.

Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator Angela Styles said agencies have put in place the infrastructure to compete noninherently governmental positions over the last few years.
Now, many are in a better position to compete jobs, improve performance and save millions of dollars.

A senior administration official said OMB will analyze more than 650 comments it received about the new circular and make revisions. OFPP then will work with agencies to implement the new best-value method based on the Federal Acquisition Regulation.


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