CIO’s Weigh In on OMB’s Push For Increased IT Program Scrutiny

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In recent weeks, the OMB has issued a number of initiatives to increase scrutiny over IT programs across federal agencies, eliminating those which prove ineffective or redundant.  In addition to halting the progress of all financial system modernization projects pending OMB review, federal CIO Vivek Kundra has said he will be reviewing high-risk IT projects for the 2012 budget.  All of this is part of a broader effort by the administration to close the IT gap between the federal and private sectors; while private industry has seen a high productivity return on IT investments, the federal government has not.

Yesterday, a panel of top government CIO’s met at a leadership briefing breakfast to discuss management and vision, and reflected on the OMB’s recent efforts.

In all, the IT leaders agreed that increased scrutiny around IT programs would shine a spotlight on waste and force programs to prove their functionality and efficacy from a business perspective:

Susan Swart, Chief Information Officer, Department of State

“The OMB’s focus on project management has made, in general, the execution of project management better; I think there is still room for improvement and I like the idea that came out in the memo, not just in the financial systems, but the whole idea of …rapid turnaround and all of that.  I think one of the things that hinders that from happening, even with good project managers is that there is no reward for risk taking that doesn’t work out. You can’t really take a risk, and say, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it quickly and put it out and if it doesn’t work I’m going to try again.’ That’s a whole new way of thinking.  I also think that a project is successful if it delivered the functionality that you wanted. [For example], the state department shouldn’t build a weapons system. It doesn’t matter how well we could build it, it shouldn’t have built that in the first place.  So, I think that a lot of the decision making and responsibility around IT projects needs to be done better, that at the beginning we need to say, ‘is that the right project?’ and ‘is it going to deliver the functionality that we need?’ and ‘who says we need it? How is it ranked against other priorities?’ If those things were done better, I think we would have better success in what we deliver at the end.”

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“TechStat was one of the worst experiences of my life, but I will say that it worked.  We had two projects that should have been combined into one; they were doing duplicative work and that visibility and getting the business owners — not their IT project managers — up there to talk about it and take responsibility for it worked out great. And that visibility, and getting a broader audience paying attention across all those initiatives has been an advantage.”

Richard Spires, CIO, Department of Homeland Security

“It goes back to the empowerment of the CIO; if they won’t listen to us, then they’ll certainly listen to the OMB.  Maybe there’s too much, in a sense, there’s a lot coming out of the OMB.  That being said, I do think that particularly the stuff that’s come out this week is spot-on. I have real issues with programs in the Department of Homeland Security, and getting the focus on them… makes a difference, and gets the visibility and gets the business involved in ways that maybe they haven’t been involved…Generally, I’m very supportive of this. I think its helping the government better manage IT.”

“There’s great power in transparency…It helps build trust, it helps focus attention, and serves as an early warning, to see problems before they’re so far down the road that they’re really hard to fix.  So, there’s great power in transparency and that can’t help but help everyone … In the end, though, its all about where you focus; its strategic intent, strategic direction, putting the right tools into place and holding people accountable, where problems get solved and people are held accountable.  And you can apply that model to wherever you live.”

Joe Klimavic, CIO; and Director, High Performance Computing and Communications, NOAA

“I think we’re seeing a tremendous push toward program accountability.  What Roger Baker’s doing over at VA with PMAS is something we’ve got to do in all the different departments.  I think what I try to do with out strategic alignment of our acquisitions… is to give better transparency of our investments that we’re making in IT, and I think that’s critical; it’s ‘where do you spend the money?’ and ‘what are you getting for those investments?’ The high-level scrutiny is much like the standards of learning in school systems. It levels the playing field, and when you shine a light on these programs you have to have better program management. The CIO is still going to have a choice though, of how they operate and how they manage programs, but I think we need to push the accountability down to the lowest level, and that’s what we’re trying to do at NOAA. The other thing is a focus on metrics, and what you measure really does get done. What I’ve been trying to do is get the metrics in place.”

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What are your thoughts on the OMB’s latest war on waste?  Does it threaten innovation and risk-taking or force new programs to ‘make the grade’? Share your thoughts!

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CIO, Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
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