TBM 'years away' from full implementation

Shutterstock image: vector of managerial skills utilized throughout a project. 

Acting federal CIO Margie Graves said the government is pushing forward to implement a standard approach for tracking IT spending decisions across federal agencies, but a top General Services Administration official said full-scale implementation is still "years away."

The Technology Business Management taxonomy is a framework for decision-making that seeks to run an organization's IT operations like a business, mainly through more transparent information around spending decisions. It is more commonly used in the private sector, but the idea has been slowly gaining traction in the federal government since the final years of the Obama administration.

At the 2017 Data Transparency Conference in Arlington on Sept. 26, White House Assistant to the President Chris Liddell said the Trump administration was "a strong supporter" of the Data Act and the extent to which it has laid a foundation for future innovations like the TBM framework. He also called the use of standardized data a "tremendous opportunity" and has speculated in the past that a more centralized approach to tracking IT spending would reveal additional costs.

In June, Liddell said the federal government may actually be spending $200 billion a year on IT, more than twice the amount listed in the President's FY 2018 budget.

Graves said "a number" of federal agencies are currently implementing the TBM framework, and that the CIO Council and GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy are reaching out to people and organizations in the private and public sector who have already integrated a standardized taxonomy for IT spending to get additional feedback.

"What we're doing with [TBM] is we're taking the conversation out of the realm of 'wow, IT costs a lot and we can't really put our finger on exactly how much it costs and where all those costs are located,' to 'we fixed that problem, we understand what our costs are, we understand what our business cases are,' and now we're moving to…the conversation about how IT adds value to the delivery of the mission," she said.

Dominic Sale, GSA's deputy associate administrator, said the TBM framework is still maturing and integrating itself into the bureaucratic layers that drive government action. Currently the process is almost entirely led out of the CIO office, but Sale said that chief financial officers, chief administrative officers and executives "across the c-suite" will need to be equally involved in order for implementation of the framework to succeed.

"It may be led by the CIO community but [TBM] will fail without involvement from others," said Sale.

Sale also said that while implementation of the framework at GSA has been largely successful, it remains to be seen how difficult integration will be at larger, more complex agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of the Treasury. Change is not expected to happen overnight, and Sale warned that ultimately the government is taking a phased approach and expecting lots of imperfection along the way.

"Implementation of TBM is going to take years, I want to lay that out there right now," he said. "This is not a six-month project. This is something where we might have a couple of good [agency case studies] to point to within the next year or so."

That thinking largely falls in line with language used earlier this year in the Office of Management and Budget's 2019 Capital Planning and Investment Control guidelines.

"It is the intent of OMB to follow an incremental process in rolling out these changes," the authors state. "There will not be a big-bang approach in which the lights are turned off on the legacy process and turned on the next day with a new TBM-based process."

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.


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