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Federal Enterprise Architecture Needs More Work

The Bush administration is making progress, witnesses told a Congressional panel--but they didn't agree on how much.
The federal government is making progress on implementing a federal enterprise architecture, yet much more work needs to get done, witnesses testifying before a Congressional panel said Wednesday. However, the witnesses didn't agree on the amount of progress made.

Several witnesses testifying before the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and the Census also called on the Bush administration to quickly create within the White House Office of Management and Budget a position of chief architect to oversee efforts to create a federal enterprise architecture, a blueprint on how to link government processes and the IT needed to accomplish those tasks.

Karen Evans, the OMB's administrator for E-government and IT and the federal government's highest-ranking IT executive, said in her prepared remarks that the federal enterprise architecture program and agency enterprise architecture initiatives are beginning to achieve strong results. Still, she said, significant work remains to achieve the full potential existing with the federal enterprise architecture. "OMB seeks to develop the governmentwide practice of enterprise architecture so agencies can proactively collaborate together to make investment decisions prior to submitting their agency's budget to OMB," Evans said.

"But," said Randolph Hite, director of IT architecture and systems issues for the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, "it remains very much a work in process and is still maturing."

Hite, along with two former top government IT officials, Norman Lorentz and David McClure, called for the creation of the chief architect job. "Unless the OMB has a knowledgeable EA leader, the overall governmentwide momentum gained by the EA programs over the past several years will be adversely impacted," said Lorentz, a senior VP for intergovernmental solutions for IT provider DigitalNet Government Solutions. "The individual selected must be knowledgeable of both business and technology, and the position must be filled quickly."

McClure, a former GAO IT director, said the chief architect position requires an individual with strong outreach and communications skills. "The individual must translate the core value of using enterprise architectures as a means of controlling IT investments and achieving cross-agency service delivery synergies essential to achieving high performance government," testified McClure, VP for E-government and Technology at the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government. "Working collaboratively with chief architects in the agencies, this individual must engage in constant, constructive dialogues with agency heads, program executives, chief financial officers, and the Congress."

Federal Enterprise Architecture Primer
Much of the testimony centered on an explanation of the federal enterprise architecture. According to McClure, it consists of five basic reference models:

  • Business Reference Model: Defines functional lines of business that describe the business operations of the federal government independent of the agencies that perform them.
  • Performance Reference Model: Measures the performance of major IT investments and their contribution to line-of-business and agency program performance.
  • Component Reference Model: Identifies reusable software applications, process-automation services, business-management services, transactional services, and customer services on a governmentwide basis.
  • Data and Information Reference Model: Describes the data and information used in interactions and exchanges that support program and business line operations throughout government.
  • Technical Reference Model: Identifies the standards, specifications, and technologies that support the construction and exchange of service components that can be leveraged in component-based or shared services-oriented architectures.
  • Evans conceded that gaps exist within the government enterprise architecture efforts, but steps are being taken to fill them. She cited, for instance, the data-reference model and integration of the CIO Council's security and privacy profile into the enterprise architecture framework. "We're emphasizing the establishment of common language and taxonomy to represent the federal enterprise architecture, so stovepipes continue to fall," she said. "Agency alignment with the federal enterprise architecture needs to be transparent and incorporated into agency EA programs. The federal enterprise architecture continues to provide a transformational opportunity to better-enable collaboration across the federal government, within and between agencies, and with state and local governments."

    Hite questioned whether the government's enterprise architecture is really an architecture. "A true enterprise architecture is intended to provide a blueprint for optimizing an organization's business operations and implementing the IT that supports them," Hite said, adding that well-defined enterprise architectures describe, in meaningful models, the enterprise's "as-is" and "to-be" environments, along with the plan for transitioning from the current to the target environment. To be meaningful, he said, these models should be inherently consistent with one another in view of the many interrelationships and interdependencies. He cited business functions where, for example, the information flows among the functions, the security needs of this information, and the services and applications that support these functions.

    Models put forth by OMB don't demonstrate this kind of content exists in the federal enterprise architecture, Hite said. "The federal enterprise architecture is more akin to a point-in-time framework or classification scheme for government operations," he said. "If agencies use the federal enterprise architecture as a model for defining the depth and detail for their own architectures, the agencies' enterprise architectures may not provide sufficient content for driving the implementation of systems."

    Way To Drive Interoperability
    The notion of enterprise architecture surfaced in the mid-1980s as a way to optimize integration and interoperability across organizations. The GAO has been a big advocate of enterprise architecture for the past decade. Enterprise architecture has been a key element in the president's management agenda. Indeed, OMB requires agencies to map and align their architectures with the federal enterprise architecture. However, since these terms aren't well-defined, Hite said he wonders if the expected relationship between the federal enterprise architecture and agencies' architectures is clear enough. Like federal enterprise architectures, agencies' enterprise architectures continue to mature but not at the level of the federal one. GAO found little change in overall maturity between 2001 and 2003; only 20 of 96 agencies examined had established at least the foundation for effective architecture management.

    Environmental Protection Agency CIO Kimberly Nelson, who co-chairs the Federal CIO Council's architecture and infrastructure committee, said the complexity of the federal government is a factor behind the deliberate evolution of enterprise architecture initiatives. "The major challenge is that enterprise architecture is a new discipline and, like all new concepts, it will take time for it to take hold," she told the subcommittee. Yet, she said, significant progress is being made, noting that OMB has finished work on all major aspects of the federal enterprise architecture reference model that gives federal agencies a common way to look at their business functions and align their information investments appropriately. "Without this common reference model, each individual federal department was creating silo enterprise architectures," she said. "EPA, like other federal agencies, is now mapping its own in-house enterprise architecture blueprint and IT investments to the federal model."