Lawmakers to micromanage more

Omnibus spending bill puts some agencies under increased congressional scrutiny

Lawmakers, frustrated by the Office of Management and Budget’s practice of putting federal projects on various watch lists without explaining why, have decided to do something about it.

In the fiscal 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill President Bush signed into law Dec. 26, Congress included a governmentwide provision that requires OMB to publish in its annual budget request the specific reasons why a project is on its High-Risk and Management watch lists.

“The information will help [the Government Accountability Office] and Congress to spot trends, track progress and recommend corrective action,” lawmakers wrote in the legislation.

The new requirement follows two years of debate between OMB and lawmakers about the use and effectiveness of those lists.

That is one of several information technology and procurement-related provisions in the $515.7 billion spending bill. The following are some of the policy and management changes that agencies will face in 2008.

Governmentwide provisions

Congress told OMB to set up a pilot program to track the cost and size of service contracts in at least three Cabinet-level departments.

It wants OMB to focus on contracts with excessive costs or inferior quality.

In addition, the spending bill allocates $3 million to the E-Government fund, the same amount Congress provided in each of the past two years.

Agencies also must submit a report to the House and Senate appropriations committees and receive approval before spending money on any new or ongoing e-government projects. Those reports must account for the amount of money to be used, the activities for which the money will be spent and the relevance of the project to the agency.

Health and Human Services Department
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT will continue to develop and advance an interoperable national health IT infrastructure with $42.4 million and another $18.9 million for developing a health IT network.

Homeland Security Department
The chief information officer’s office received $214 million for the development and acquisition of IT equipment, software, services and related activities. Of that, $36.8 million will be available for DHS’ data center development and $35.5 million for further construction of a National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage.

Justice Department
Congress attached restrictions for how Justice spends money for major IT programs expected to cost more than $100 million.

Before Justice can spend money on large IT projects, the deputy attorney general and an investment review board must give Congress assurances that the program has sound management and contractor oversight mechanisms are in place. Congress also said large projects must be compatible with the department’s enterprise architecture.

In the case of Sentinel, Justice’s $300 million case management project, Congress will withhold $25 million until 60 days after the House and Senate appropriations committees and GAO receive an integrated baseline review of the program. The attorney general also must certify that existing phases have been completed before Justice moves forward on any new work.

Labor Department
The agency received $296.7 million for agency management purposes, including $20 million for the acquisition of IT. The CIO must ensure that the projects meet the department’s capital investment management plan.

Treasury Department
The Internal Revenue Service’s Business Systems Modernization program will receive $267.1 million for IT acquisition, management and related contract costs. However, the S must first gain congressional approval to spend funds on projects based on factors such as passing investment reviews, complying with the IRS’ enterprise architecture and conforming with the IRS’ enterprise life-cycle methodology.

Veterans Affairs Department
VA received $1.97 billion for IT systems and telecommunications support. However, VA will need congressional approval to obligate funds to projects and must conform to various IT best practices.

Federal Computer Week reporters Ben Bain, Wade-Hahn Chan, Jason Miller, Mary Mosquera, Matthew Weigelt and Richard Walker contributed to this story.


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