White House serious about killing some IT programs

Plan details structural reforms

The Obama administration today released a 25-step implementation plan to overhaul federal IT management that includes fixing or killing at least a third of underperforming IT projects during the next 18 months.

The plan fleshes out five structural reforms the administration announced last month and each of the plan’s action items is broken down into six-month deadlines to ensure the government is making progress. The White House has already terminated one Homeland Security Department program. The reforms include significant changes to the role of the CIO, a new drive to implement cloud computing solutions as the first choice in many cases, and a reduction in the number of federal data centers.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra provided an overview of the reform plan at the White House today. The plan has two parts – achieving operational efficiency and managing large IT projects – and was developed with the input of the federal IT, acquisition and program management communities, along with industry experts and academics.

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Broadly, the plan seeks to improve how the government funds, staffs and manages IT projects. In terms of management, Kundra said the plan seeks to ensure agency CIOs and the Federal CIO Council have the appropriate authority and oversight to focus on execution and portfolio management, not just on policy. Over the next two months, Kundra said he will meet with deputy secretaries and CIOs to begin to fundamentally change the role of the CIO in an agency. 

Kundra highlighted several other aspects of the government’s action plan during his presentation, such as shifting to a “cloud first” policy across the government within 18 months and reducing the number of federal data centers by at least 800 by 2015.

Further, he explained the administration will only approve funding of major IT programs that have a dedicated program manager and a fully integrated program team, use a modular approach with usable functionality delivered every six months and use specialized IT acquisition professionals.

Kundra also said the federal government will work with Congress to consolidate commodity IT funding under agency CIOs and to develop flexible budget models that align with modular development.

An interactive online platform for pre-RFP agency-industry collaboration is also in the offing, to foster better relations between government and industry, he said. Moreover, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy will begin a “myth-busting” education campaign to eliminate artificial barriers to private-sector engagement, according to the plan.

Jeffrey Zients, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management and chief performance officer, asked industry and government members who attended the event Thursday to hold the government accountable for executing its plan with discipline and urgency. He said, overall, the government must be more responsive to evolving technologies and more accountable and focused on delivering results.

Kundra also stressed that this IT reform is different from ones in the past because it is centered on execution, not writing more policy. To illustrate this point, Kundra spotlighted agencies throughout his presentation that have or have not made strides to improve their IT projects. The IT projects featured were part of the 26 high-priority projects the administration identified last summer as ones that were at-risk of being over-budget, behind schedule or plagued by problems of mismanagement, or that lacked functional deliverability.

OMB officials have reviewed 18 of these projects so far, including the DHS project that has been terminated.  The remaining eight systems will be reviewed before the budget is released next February, Zients told reporters during a call on Wednesday. Officials said the review of these projects helped to inform their action plan.

Additional elements of the reform plan included designing a formal IT program management career path and launching a best-practices collaboration platform. The government also wants to reduce the barriers of entry for small innovative technology companies.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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Reader comments

Fri, Dec 10, 2010

This has to happen; however, the way it happens is counterproductive. It comes off as punitive and generally not helpful. Why does it happen? Basically there is no tension in the system, at least not at the right places and phases, or in the proper quantities (feedback loop). The systems ends up fighting (wasting energy) the mechanism that in the end would help improve the process. When and where will it all end?

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