Mar 10 2006

The Big Picture

Agencies focus in on government as an enterprise and how their systems fit in a service-driven world.

<br /> The Big Picture<br />

Agencies have always had to make tough choices about information technology, but in the next budget cycle the emphasis on the government as an enterprise versus each agency as an enterprise will be even more pronounced.

There is a "natural tension of the government acting as a single entity" and of the government working as hundreds of multiple organizations, says Richard Burk, the government's chief architect.

The reality has set in for agencies, says David Wennergren, Navy CIO and vice-chairman of the CIO Council. "There's the realization that you can't go it alone anymore."

The goal for agencies now must be to focus on how "we work versus what we do" because that results in IT efforts that lead to the right ends rather than efforts with simply great means, says Burk, director of the Office of Management and Budget's Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office. He and Wennergren spoke separately at the recent FOSE trade show in Washington.

For the first time since the government began its enterprise architecture initiative three years ago, OMB will be reviewing the agencies' results from their use of EAs rather than just the EA plans themselves, notes Burk. This is not merely an exercise, he says.

OMB received the most recent EA reports from agencies at the end of February and is rating agencies' efforts now against 17 specific criteria. Ultimately, if OMB is displeased with how any one agency is faring in aligning its mission, IT and outcomes, then it will penalize that agency on its President's Management Agenda scorecard.

Breaking the Mold

Although "it's not natural" for agencies to think of their services in terms of citizens and the government as a whole, the approach makes sense because that's how the typical citizen perceives federal services, Burk says. The use of enterprise architectures, which help agencies document how to achieve their missions within the context of the government's broader goals, are now at the stage where OMB can really gauge how agencies are making the leap from their as-is environments (where programs, projects and IT stand now) to their desired to-be environments (where programs, projects and IT need to evolve to).

Ed Meagher, new deputy CIO of the Interior Department, says, "We have a situation for the first time where the agencies have a real good idea of what the as-is is." Meagher, who also spoke at FOSE, says the EAs allow "federal agency management to really begin to figure out and discuss what the to-be ought to be."

The drivers behind the EA effort and creating a federal enterprise remain fairly straightforward, according to Burk:

  • Break down barriers within and among agencies, and eliminate stovepipe systems.
  • Think of the government as a collaborative environment.
  • Rely on the FEA's framework.

EA work is still relatively new territory for the government. So for many IT and senior managers, who are generally risk-averse, this framework has created a context in which they must make decisions outside their comfort zone, Burk says.

And while the administration expects agencies to move forward collectively, agencies should not expect the way the government funds IT or EA efforts to change radically any time soon.

"We're not going to reorganize the government or get major funding changes out of Congress," Burk says. Appropriations for cross-agency initiatives aren't likely any time in the near future; agencies will still have to deal with line-item funds that focus extensively on the next year. Nonetheless, agencies cannot take the approach of simply nicking away a bit here and a bit there to find funds for collaborative programs, Burk says. They must be more innovative, and OMB will be looking for these approaches in EA plans, 2008 budget proposals and Exhibit 300 IT program justifications.

The EAs and the FEA can help, he advises. Because without an overarching approach, the result would be "a recipe for poor performance," Burk says. The order of activity, he says, is clear-cut: "We architect, we invest, we implement — in that order."