OMB IT Reform Plan: Back to Basics

6 mins read

Vivek Kundra, Photo: rediff.com

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra announced the government’s sweeping overhaul of federal IT reform at a White House briefing today.

But don’t call the government’s next step a radical, new approach.

For Kundra and the Office of Management and Budget, it’s all about going back to the basics.

Or, as Kundra said as he roamed the stage of the South Court auditorium of the Old Executive Office Building: “It’s not about a new, grand design, but actually about executing” large-scale IT projects successfully.

The 25-point plan for IT reform comes after an extensive government review of federal IT projects, including an especially close eye on 26 large-scale IT projects, which had been deemed at risk for falling behind schedule or going over budget.

The review spanned two years, including meetings with key industry leaders, the formation of new policy and even the recent canceling of some high-profile projects.

Highlights of the plan:

  • Align IT budgets and the acquisition process with technology cycles to eliminate the “structural disconnect” between government funding and the technology “refresh cycle.” Along with increased budget flexibility, though, must come greater congressional oversight. This step would bolster the authority of agency CIOs to focus on executing projects rather than setting policy.
  • Strengthen program management by creating a professional track for program managers. Going forward, Kundra said OMB will only approve IT projects that have dedicated full-time program managers, as well as integrated program teams, which includes finance, acquisition, business and legal experts.
  • Increase Accountability by overhauling often powerless Investment Review Boards to make them more similar to the TechStat model.
  • Increase engagement with the IT community by launching a “myth busters” campaign. One of the areas of focus will be on increasing communication between government and industry to increase effective bids. OMB will also launch an interactive online platform to foster fair RFP collaboration.
  • Adopt shared services, such as cloud computing. This includes data center reduction by 40 percent and a default, cloud-first policy for federal agencies for the 2012 budget process.

The long-term aim of the plan is meant to close the IT gap in innovation and productivity between government IT and the private sector. And, during the presentation, Kundra provided examples of both best practices and IT horror stories of over-budget and behind-schedule projects.

Going forward, Kundra said OMB wouldn’t hesitate to shutter failing projects, mentioning several times his goal to stop “throwing good money after bad money.”

In the past, he said, agencies would keep spending on a project that was likely going nowhere, until the wasteful spending “became a national headline.”

“We want to be proactive” now, he said.

The plan will be implemented “chunks,” as Kundra called them: reforms that can be put into place six months, 12 months and 18 months.

As for the basics mentioned before, Kundra name-dropped Clinger-Cohen, the 1996 federal IT acquisition reform bill, and the E-Government Act, which, he said, acted as guides for current reform efforts.

For example, he talked about a program started by the E-Gov Act, creating rotating partnerships of people from government and industry to share best practices. But, likely because of conflict-of-interest concerns, the program never seemed to get off the ground. The way to implement such a program now, he said, is to not to partner with IT firms, but to look at other large-scale companies, such as Alcoa and Starbucks, with insight to share but without the ethical entanglements.

Also, in many cases, agencies already have the authority from these other statutes to take the reins in a new direction on IT reform, but simply don’t know it.

On the issue of cloud computing, Kundra applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the General Services Administration for their recent shifts to cloud-computing platforms.

Re-thinking strategies for shared services, such as cloud computing, hasn’t been done in nearly a decade, he said, when the technology landscape was very different.

As the government lays out its new policy, Kundra said, it’s now time for OMB and agencies to act on the reforms, with industry and the public holding their feet to the fire.

“We want you to hold us accountable,” he said, to put the focus on executing projects successfully, not to “sit in a room and write more policy.”

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