Reading tea leaves at OMB when what’s needed are answers

By David Perera

The White House recently warned agencies that they should be cooperating with Office of Management Budget efforts to review agency information technology programs.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra began such reviews in January under the rubric of “TechStat,” but background sources have told FierceGovermentIT that agency willingness to participate in those sessions has been waning in recent months. Some have said Kundra has yet to capture the high regard of career IT officials.

That might explain why the OMB memo (.pdf) admonishing agencies that they “will be required to present improvement plans to the CIO for projects that are behind schedule or over budget” was signed by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Or there might be another explanation–frankly, it’s hard to tell, because OMB is not making Kundra available for interviews except under the controlled circumstances of a telephone press availability with other federal officials, or speech before a large crowd.

On April 1, I submitted to OMB some questions about TechStat and how it works. Three months later, I haven’t received a response, a disappointing fact from an administration that takes pride in embracing openness and transparency in government. My interview request would be neither here nor there, except that I’m not alone in noticing that federal IT officials have been relatively less available, that there seems to be an effort to tightly control public communications by limiting the number of federal officials who will speak to press and the opportunities for speaking with them.

No administration will give unfettered access, of course, but a tightening of an already very tight screw is not a positive development.

Here are the questions I sent to OMB on TechStat back in April–can the agency please get me back some answers?

  • How are projects chosen for TechStat review
  • How many TechStat reviews have you held so far?
  • What data is examined during the review?
  • How does TechStat fit in with the [Capital Planning and Investment Control] process?
  • Is OMB changing the CPIC process?
  • How can you be sure the TechStat reviews are effective? Action items agreed to might be different from action items undertaken; so too might be action items that seem advisable during a review…
  • How can you be sure TechStat doesn’t cause suboptimization?
  • If a project is over budget and over schedule, but nonetheless required for an agency’s mission, can it really be canceled? – Dave

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