OMB's high-risk list drops slightly

As the Bush administration winds down, the Office of Management and Budget is making plans to persuade the incoming administration to maintain the management watch list and high-risk list for information technology projects.

Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and information technology at OMB, said she and other OMB officials will meet with the CIO Council soon to develop a transition strategy for the next administration's transition team.

“All the stuff we’ve been working on are basic management types of activities that have to happen," she said.

Regardless of the incoming president's decisions, OMB will produce at least two more quarterly updates of the list before Bush's term ends, she said. The results for the third quarter of 2008 were released today. The final one will come out in January 2009, just before the new White House occupant moves in.

“The whole goal is that the next team will know exactly what the landscape is, and they can make their management decisions," she said.

The third-quarter list identifies 477 projects as high-risk, down from 489 in the second quarter. By the criteria of the list, projects are designated high-risk only because they are especially complex and in need of oversight, not because they are necessarily showing signs of trouble.

For example, existing systems in agencies involved in e-government transitions are kept on the list automatically until the agencies shut them down, said Tim Young, Evans' deputy administrator for e-government and IT. The Environmental Protection Agency's legacy payroll system, for example, was on the second-quarter list but not the new ones.

The agency has migrated its payroll functions to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, a shared service center for payroll processing. "This was the quarter where they demonstrated to us that they had decommissioned legacy payroll system," Young said.

Such migrations account for about 20 percent of the high-risk projects, Evans said.

Although the total number on the list has fallen, particularly as e-government migrations finish, Evans cautioned that reducing the number of high-risk projects isn't the goal. All projects that need special attention should be on the list. One category of projects that is automatically added is shared service providers, and their number is unlikely to decrease, she noted.

However, Evans said the total number is a small fraction of the government's IT activities.

“Numbers are relative," she said. "If you look at 477 projects out of $71 billion, that doesn’t seem like a whole lot. For the most part, agencies successfully implement the projects. What happens in the IT area a lot of times, and this is what happens on the high-risk list, is that the project is complex and needs extra management oversight.”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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