More resources needed

Government officials, in agencies and Congress, like to talk about making government work more efficiently. By definition, bureaucracies typically are bloated and can be re-engineered to produce more with less.

But other areas in government are suffering from the opposite malady: too few resources. So much so that the effort to make government more efficient has reached the point of diminishing returns.

Such a situation exists in the management of many information technology projects, according to Mark Forman, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of E-Government and IT. In a recent survey conducted through the CIO Council, OMB found that many projects don't have full-time project managers to properly oversee them, including keeping them within budget, on time and up to par with performance standards.

Forman wants all projects worth $5 million or more to have full-time managers assigned to them because, at this level, they require people working full-time to track all the projects' moving parts and to work with other key agency managers, such as chief financial officers.

For the Bush administration to make a proposal to increase the size of government, observers should be confident that a problem of too few federal workers, not too many, is more likely. And Forman should know. He and his staff at OMB have conducted some of the most rigorous reviews of government IT projects.

When managers are asked to do too many tasks, the result is typically a mediocre job on all, if not failure on many. The General Accounting Office does not have to look far to find numerous examples of failed systems, and the larger the system, the more likely it will fail to meet expectations or goals.

Forman began his present job two years ago, questioning whether the $45 billion federal IT budget at the time was too much — while most others complained it was not enough. So, to call for more project managers is most likely a decision that didn't come easily. Because of that, Congress should heed it and help support methods that produce more project managers.

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