White House Will Go Slow On IT Projects

OMB official says $15 billion of proposed federal IT budget won't be released until agencies can justify the expenditures.
Though President Bush proposes to spend $59.3 billion on federal IT next year, nearly one-quarter of that amount--about $15 billion--won't be released by the White House until agencies present business cases that justify those information systems, a top White House aide said Thursday. "They'll have to have more focus," says Mark Forman, associate director for IT and E-government at the Office of Management and Budget. "I can't tell how long it take to get them approved."

Forman won't identify what projects are at risk, but says many of the dollars are earmarked for critical systems. "This is not a threat; it's more like a milestone," said Forman, in New York for an Information Technology Association of America conference on government IT services marketplace. "We won't let the money flow until agencies present decent milestones, cost estimates, and performance measurements."

Forman said another 50% of government agencies have submitted business cases that, for the most part, justify their IT projects, but still have gaps that need to be addressed before receiving OMB's blessing.

Demands by OMB forcing agencies to justify IT spending frustrates many departmental and agency CIOs, says Paul Wohlleben, a former CIO at the General Services Administration and now a partner at consulting firm Grant Thornton, which conducted an annual survey of federal CIOs for ITAA that was released Thursday. "CIOs say, 'We don't know how to define performance measures,'" Wohlleben told conference attendees. "We need help in this area."

Forman agreed and said the federal CIO Council and the Office of Personnel Management need to identify programs to train agencies in program management that should help them get their business cases approved.

On another matter, Forman said the government's 24 E-government initiatives will move forward, perhaps at a bit slower pace, because Congress earlier this month appropriated only $5 million of the $45 million the administration requested for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Ironically, Forman noted, Congress' appropriations committees pointed out that having a separate funding line for E-government programs, aimed at eliminating redundant IT systems, in itself is a redundant way to fund government IT. "We agree," Forman said. "We don't want to create an additional pool of funding."

Forman said funding for the two dozen initiatives will come from the savings the government will realize when agencies begin sharing systems and eliminate superfluous ones.

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