The Clinger-Cohen Act, 10 Years Later: Becoming Enterprise Architects

Editor's Note: Ten years ago, Congress passed the Information Technology Management Reform Act, later renamed for its co-sponsors, Rep. William Clinger, R-Pa., and Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine. In this four-part series, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wes Andrues, an IT policy consultant and CIO Certificate holder from the National Defense University, looks at the changes in federal technology procurement since the law was passed. Part Three: Becoming Enterprise Architects

In 2002, while the Office of Management and Budget was still struggling to get its arms around compliance with the Clinger-Cohen Act, Congress got into the act again. The Electronic Government Act required OMB to implement yet more results-oriented controls, measuring how information technology would "improve the performance and reduce costs of federal government administration." Like the CCA, the new e-gov effort was launched with high hopes. A key element of the Bush administration's President's Management Agenda, the idea behind e-gov was to "make better use of information technology investments to eliminate billions of dollars of wasteful federal spending," OMB announced.

The e-gov effort, though not driven directly by the CCA, led to an effort to establish a framework for governmentwide technology improvement known as the Federal Enterprise Architecture. It provides a shell of sorts, corralling each agency's IT planning methodology into an analytical framework of five separate reference models. It is a lens through which OMB and the Government Accountability Office can establish context and assign ratings to the overall health and maturity of an agency's IT enterprise planning efforts. In other words, it is at least a rudimentary means of capturing performance factors on which to base an evaluation of efficiency.

While shy on detail, the Federal Enterprise Architecture is nonetheless a laudable beginning in the great experiment of aligning IT with agency missions and gaining perspective on the question of efficiency. Much remains to be done in making it the consummate instrument of measure, crystallizing its inputs and refining its overall utility. For now, although OMB assigns scores to agencies' enterprise architecture efforts, they merely reflect the degree of compliance with overall makeup and design requirements.

This speaks to the universal truth that while OMB may be the appointed arbiter of the enterprise architecture process, wielding the blunt budgetary stick over compliance requirements, it is the CIO who is ultimately responsible for the architecture's impact and how it is positioned to meet the agency's definition of efficiency.

Regardless of how blunt the overall instrument, the OMB does use today's enterprise architecture inputs to undertake some budget control activity. For example, the ratings of agency efforts are used to create a management watch list, which has resulted in several hundred IT programs being placed in a special monitoring category. Should a watched program fail to improve, OMB may recommend budget cuts to force improvements or propose killing the program altogether.

In 2004, the Federal Aviation Administration experienced just this scenario when its Wide Area Augmentation System was added to the watch list. Facing the real possibility of budget cuts, the FAA upgraded its metrics for the program, and the following year it was not included on the list.

The Federal Enterprise Architecture structure and its attendant processes reflect an effort by the government's IT collective to capture the functionality of big IT programs. Yet structure alone does not precipitate change, especially when it is a structure that is not largely understood or easily applied. Not long ago, the Government Accountability Office noted that since enterprise architecture efforts are lashed to individual agency performance measures, they are not a "one-size-fits-all proposition." In many cases, the process of developing such architectures suffers from a lack of understanding, especially at the executive level, and often there is insufficient staff on hand to translate the complex mechanics of the process into action.

One agency that has proven especially adept at formulating appropriate enterprise architecture inputs is the Department of Interior, who recently won OMB's "Best in Class" award. This means that the department has demonstrated a clear linkage between its information resources and the five reference models of the overall Federal Enterprise Architecture.

DOI's efforts demonstrate that capturing and aligning agency information resources is indeed achievable, and implementing that effort government wide is one of OMB's top priorities. It is being spurred by a chorus of voices still decrying the state of today's IT spending.

In a 2003 memo, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said, "federal agencies should be deriving better results from the $60 billion spent annually on information technology. Much of that money is wasted on IT systems that are redundant or obsolete." Moreover, Lieberman wrote, "The lion's share of the $60 billion spent on IT is spent on service contracts, and there is ample evidence to suggest that oversight of these contracts has been deficient."

The simple truth is that in implementing IT, the government is forced to rely on myriad service contracts. And the idea of issuing performance-based contracts for such services is still a relative novelty in the federal IT world.

One agency where the concept has taken root is the Transportation Security Administration. The brand-new TSA, not tethered to legacy systems or tired capital planning procedures, made its billion-dollar IT Managed Services contract an exclusively performance-based package. Under the contract, Unisys agreed to implement an infrastructure that spans more than 600 sites, both on and off airport premises.

Next week: The Age of Results

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