OMB: Fewer programs on risk lists

Watch List’s Top 5

The Office of Management and Budget’s Management Watch List ranks agencies and departments with programs requiring close management attention. The top five departments are:

Defense

Commerce

Health and Human Services

Interior

Homeland Security

The Office of Management and Budget has revised its Management Watch List and High Risk list after dropping 224 programs from the lists of information technology efforts  that it considers to be risky or poorly planned.

 OMB revised the lists after taking a closer look at the business plans agencies submitted and reviewing accomplishments that some agencies have made since the Bush administration submitted its budget request in February, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator of e-government and IT.

The Management Watch List reflects  IT investments, not individual programs. The revised list includes 473 investments, a 19 percent drop from the original 585. The remaining investments account for about $25 billion in federal IT spending.

The High Risk List declined from 601 projects to 489, also a 19 percent drop. The projects still on the list have a total value of about $15 billion, OMB said.

The fiscal 2009 budget request includes nearly $71 billion in IT spending.

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 established the Management Watch List, which reflects planning weaknesses that OMB identifies in the documents that agencies submit for approval. The High Risk List, created by OMB in 2005 to complement the Watch List, includes projects that require the highest level of management attention. They are not necessarily projects that are at risk of failure.

A major aspect of agency business plans is the role of earned value management, a project management technique that measures progress against a baseline plan. “A lot of agency management capabilities with regard to earned value management have increased,” Evans said.

The Defense Department led the revised Management Watch List, with 63 investments. The Commerce Department, with 61, ran a close second.

The Homeland Security Department showed some improvement, falling from 52 investments on the list to 42 in the revised version, Evans said. The Energy Department filed 26 business cases with OMB, all of them good enough to keep that department off the list entirely, she said.

“We really try to balance compliance with results,” Evans said. “We try to use this as an indicator to identify issues within a department.”

On the High Risk List, agencies’ progress in e-government initiatives was responsible for knocking many projects off the list, said Tim Young, OMB’s deputy administrator of e-government and IT.

All of the e-government projects were put on the list because of their complexity and governmentwide scope, Young said. As agencies have completed their migrations from older systems to the new systems created through the e-government initiatives, those efforts have come off the list.

For example, regulatory agencies have been moving from their old systems to the e-Rulemaking system that publishes information at www.regulations.gov. All of the agencies have now migrated, and those that finished since the original budget request came out have been taken off the revised High Risk List.

The migration to e-Payroll is almost complete, with only the State and Veterans Affairs departments still in the process, he added. Agencies completing that move are also no longer on the list.

“The reduction in numbers represents, in my view, that agencies are improving in planning and executing how they manage information technology,” Young said.

Jonathan Breul, a former OMB senior manager and now executive director of IBM’s Center for the Business of Government, said the lists contribute to more attentive and conscientious project
management.

“Sustained, disciplined management attention, oversight and follow-up always is always going to produce better results,” Breul said. 

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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