OMB to release watch lists

After years of telling lawmakers it wouldn’t release its management watch list and high-risk list, the Office of Management and Budget today will post the closely held documents on its public Web site.

Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT, said today that because Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security, earlier this month asked for the information, her office would release it publicly.

Evans said the lists should be available on OMB Web site today.

A Coburn spokesman applauded OMB's decision to release the lists.

"The subcommittee will use it to hold agencies accountable," the spokesman said. "It is another tool to make sure taxpayer dollars are well spent."

The management watch list has 86 investments on it, down from 263 in February when President Bush sent his fiscal 2008 budget request to Congress.

Evans said she didn’t remember how many projects were on the high-risk list.

“We don’t want the focus to be whether you are on the list and how you get off,” Evans said at a luncheon in Washington sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resource Managers. “The focus should be on mitigating the risks and getting senior management involvement.”

Evans added that being on the list is not a bad thing—it just means the projects have a fair amount of risk involved and are in need of management attention.

OMB has balked at lawmakers and the Government Accountability Office’s repeated requests to see the lists. The House Government Reform Committee and the Senate committee have held numerous hearings and each time OMB has resisted sharing the lists. At one point, OMB said no aggregate lists even exist.

The management watch list and high-risk list started off in 2002 by former OMB administrator for e-gov and IT Mark Forman.

But Evans finally decided to release the lists, though she said it has been scrubbed of any procurement-sensitive data.

Evans did emphasize that the lists are different.

The management watch list is drawn from agency business cases and focus on overall investments. The at-risk list focuses on specific projects. There could be several projects in an investment, and some or all would make the at-risk list.

OMB puts investments on the management watch list if, for instance, the agency receives a poor grade for its IT security.

Projects, such as the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects and the nine Line of Business Consolidation initiatives, are put on the high-risk list if OMB believes they need extra attention, whether they are going badly or not.

“This is a part of our oversight responsibility under the Clinger-Cohen Act,” she said.

Coburn's spokesman added that this was a significant move toward transparency by OMB.

"No matter how small it is, it can change expectations in Washington," the spokesman said. "Transparency facilitates accountability, and accountability changes behavior."

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