OMB to make biz cases a bit easier

Agencies working on their IT business cases for the 2006 budget will, for the first time in five years, get to follow a familiar format.

The Office of Management and Budget is considering using the same business case guidance in its Circular A-11 used last year, an idea intended to improve both the business cases and OMB’s ability to judge them.

The CIO Council had suggested keeping the A-11 guidance consistent this year, and Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for IT and e-government, passed the recommendation on to OMB director Joshua B. Bolten. Customarily, OMB issues draft A-11 guidance in the spring but does not come out with a final directive until August.

“We are not planning any major modifications this year, so the business cases will be consistent for successive years,” Evans said. “This will give the system stability, and we can focus on the quality of data.”

Administration officials say that having agencies follow the same steps will yield more comprehensive business cases and a better understanding of the systems they describe.
Evans said OMB has improved the A-11 process each year, but that now agencies need to focus on portfolio management.

In 2002, OMB asked agencies to provide information about the President’s Management Agenda, the e-government scorecard and the E-Government Act. Last year, the administration sought information about how IT projects correspond to the Federal Enterprise Architecture.

This all came after officials, in previous years, added questions about the Government Paperwork Elimination Act and the Government Information Security Act, which later became the Federal Information Security Management Act.

Evans said having consistent data will lead to a more substantive discussion between OMB and the agencies about IT projects and how they affect business operations.

“A lot of times if you change the questions and then try to do a straight-up analysis, it becomes difficult,” she said. “This year we can compare data field to data field, which will help speed up our analyses and help us make better business recommendations.”

William McVay, a former OMB business case expert who now is vice president for e-government at DigitalNet Inc. of Herndon, Va., said agencies cannot measure progress without a consistent starting point.

Dan Matthews, CIO of the Transportation Department and vice chairman of the CIO Council, said another year using the same methodology will further ingrain the processes and produce better business cases.

“This will help contribute to a marked improvement in the 2006 submissions,” he said.

Time to focus

McVay said the business cases will be better this year because agencies will be able to focus on details.

“Agencies have been working over the past year to improve IT management, and the business cases can be a tool to do that,” McVay said. “It allows agencies to align their resources to where they are most needed to fix their business cases.”

McVay said that, by using the same criteria from last year, agencies can concentrate on the business case problems instead of using resources to rewrite the summaries to meet new requirements.

This was the first year OMB really could leave the requirements the same, McVay said. Each year requirements were added to meet legislative or policy mandates, but this year is the first one without any significant changes.

“OMB reviews the A-11 guidance each to year to assess the burden on agencies,” McVay said. “There always is an eye toward streamlining the requirements.”

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