How the Federal Government Controls IT Spending
The Capital Planning and Investment Control program’s future is unclear, but the demands to provide more transparency into IT spending should only increase.
By Eric Thomas
Do you remember 1996? Of course you do. President Clinton was re-elected, Atlanta hosted the Olympics, and the Clinger-Cohen Act (CCA) was passed into law. The CCA, otherwise known as the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, was a seminal moment in federal IT management. Before the CCA, the General Services Administration (GSA) had the exclusive authority to buy IT goods and services for every federal agency. This often made the IT acquisition process costly, inefficient and ineffective. Before the CCA, there wasn’t a CIO for each agency. Without a CIO, IT decisions were the purview of the agency director or the CFO.
At the heart of the CCA and, in turn, Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) program, is federal agency’s submission of Exhibit 53 and Exhibit 300. Exhibit 53 is a laundry list of all of an agency’s IT investments, both major and minor, and Exhibit 300 is a more detailed business case for an agency’s major IT investments. Exhibit 300 provides an overview of the mission need for the investment, measures of success, expected outcomes and the long-term projected costs. Both exhibits are submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.
The Good, the Bad
Not surprisingly, there have been problems with the implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act. Several congressional reports have highlighted a lack of oversight; there has been too much turnover with agency CIOs; contracting and acquisition practices can be inadequate; performance measurements in Exhibit 300s have been missing, and there has been non-compliance with investment-management best practices. Users have also complained that efforts to comply with guidance from OMB are more of a compliance exercise. One program manager explained that she maintains one set of books to meet the detailed instructions from OMB and another set to meet the needs of the agency.
Despite the challenges, we have seen definitive progress since the passing of the CCA. On the positive side, a Federal CIO Council was established, and it codified into law the requirement to share best practices and to make recommendations on better information management policies. Administrations have consistently supported the need to make technology business cases better align with agency objectives through initiatives such as the President’s Management Agenda and the emphasis on the Federal Enterprise Architecture. The Obama administration has championed greater transparency through implementation of the IT Dashboard, an online snapshot of each agency’s Exhibit 53 and Exhibit 300. Recently, we have also seen a push to create greater agency accountability through the use of OMB reviews of project and portfolio management decisions via TechStat and PortfolioStat, respectively.