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2/11/2010
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Federal CIO Launches 'TechStat'

Vivek Kundra aims to identify federal IT projects that are over budget, behind schedule, or underperforming.

Before each session even begins, the OMB and the subject agency do substantial amounts of preliminary work to determine how, whether, and when a project might need to be turned around, paused, or stop.

TechStat ultimately traces its lineage back to the New York City Police Department's CompStat performance management program, which was later adapted and adopted in other city departments such as Baltimore's CitiStat. A number of cities and states have picked it up from there. Studies have found that CitiStat saved Baltimore more than $350 million in its first seven years.

For the TechStat sessions themselves, Kundra gathers the agency CIO and CFO, the responsible OMB analyst or analysts, among others. For example, a recent cybersecurity TechStat session with the Department of Health and Human Services brought in the top cybersecurity officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.The sessions allow participants to "deconstruct" and delve into the root causes of the project's problems, Kundra said.

For example, OMB convened a recent session with the Environmental Protection Agency because the agency CIO evaluated it its Financial Systems Modernization Project as problematic, even though the IT dashboard showed the effort as on schedule and on budget.

When OMB and the EPA took a closer look, they found it to be $30 million over budget and a year behind schedule, with issues around baselining and project managers who were working in "acting" capacity rather than in permanent positions, among other problems. OMB and the EPA agreed to specific action items on what to do next.

By the end of this week, according to a memo sent from Kundra to the EPA, the EPA was slated to update the project's staffing and governance model, describe a functional gap between requirements communicated to the vendors in the bid and those that were actually put in place, and update the IT Dashboard to reflect schedule and budget concerns. That update hasn't happened yet, though to the EPA's credit, the government has been off this week.

The prime contractor on the effort is CGI, having been awarded an $83 million contract in April 2008. Other contractors include IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bart & Associates Inc., and Project Performance Corporation.

Once the sessions are over and action items agreed on, there's still more to be done. "Key to this is holding agencies accountable," Kundra said in the interview. "Did they actually delivery on these promises?" If not, the OMB has the power to go as far as to withhold appropriations from the worst offenders.

Kundra said OMB plans to "be very transparent" about both the TechStat sessions and the memos they produce, making the memos available publicly in some way.

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