FDA to consolidate IT shop

In an effort to improve services and save money, the Food and Drug Administration is consolidating its information technology systems and cleaning up the lines of management.

FDA officials plan to bring eight organizations together under a single IT infrastructure to support services from e-mail to service management. Along with the IT overhaul, they are reorganizing the IT managers' jobs, including adding a new position to oversee shared services across the department.

"We kind of manage IT in a decentralized fashion," said Glenn Rogers, the FDA's deputy chief information officer. "When you work in a decentralized way, you have a stovepiped view of providing services."

The consolidation was prompted by one of the five initiatives on the President's Management Agenda, which calls for agencies to improve the workforce strategic management. The Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which requires a review of IT services to facilitate drug approvals, also pushed the FDA toward the overhaul, Rogers said.

The consolidation will save money on future IT investments, he added.

"We're trying to gain more efficiency by consolidating and leveraging our contractors. In each of the eight organizations, you are spending dollars and administrative overhead to manage the contracts," he said.

The newly created shared services director will hold a senior-level position responsible for supporting IT services for the entire agency.

The director will report to the CIO and manage the help-desk service, data networks and telephony, server management, and e-mail and database management, Rogers said. This position will allow the agency to capitalize on the IT expertise and buying power agencywide.

Other directorial positions will be created in the Office of Shared Services, such as division directors, Rogers said. Each organization now relies on information resource managers to communicate the component's IT needs to the CIO. Those positions will remain intact, but their relationship to the CIO will be strengthened.

Rogers said the managers meet with the CIO monthly, but rarely delve into the daily applications or organization. Under the consolidation plan, the managers will report directly on the systems, applications and business processes.

"We want to ensure the necessary infrastructure to support their business processes," he said. "They can go directly to the office of the CIO so [the CIO] can plan for it. It's a cleaner line of communicating with us."

The consolidation brings several obstacles, one being a culture shift in the department, Rogers said.

John Goggin, a vice president and director of META Group Inc., said agencies were structured to function in separate divisions, each with different systems and an aversion to information sharing. "That break in the silos is where the culture will take time to change," he said.

The idea of the consolidation is to bring the managers closer to the CIO to improve the level of services, said Mary Lou Lindholm, president of Lindholm and Associates, a human relations consulting firm.

"The feeling is you've got to get the people who are held accountable closer to the points of the delivery of services," Lindholm said. "The difficulty was [employees] had to go through so many layers to get to the CIO. In many cases, the CIO was so far removed from the programs they supported."

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FDA fast facts:

* The Food and Drug Administration has 10,000 employees.

* It is divided into eight business lines.

* It has more than 200 locations nationwide.

* It relies on an IT infrastructure to support the flow of regulatory, scientific and administrative data.

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FDA's IT overhaul

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to consolidate its information technology infrastructure in fiscal 2004. The agency in May released a request for information for support of what FDA deputy chief information officer Glenn Rogers called its day-to-day operations:

Wide- and local-area networks

Help desk and call center

E-mail

Database management

Server management, file and print services

IT security

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