IT planning process update to help agencies get better handle on legacy system spending

The new rules for how agencies plan for technology investments puts an extra emphasis on agile development.

The Office of Management and Budget last summer put out these new requirements as part of its fiscal 2018 Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) policy.

The Environmental Protection Agency was ready and waiting for the new approach to CPIC.

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Elena Larsen, the chief of staff for EPA chief information officer, said the new requirements under CPIC, the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) and the overall push for agile or iterative project delivery is driving a new type of approach to decision making around IT initiatives.

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“There are some new tables coming out in CPIC that instead of focusing on projects, are trying to focus on releases with number of sprints and iterations in between. We haven’t had a chance to test drive that yet, but once we do we can really see if it’s driving the behavior we want to see in projects,” Larsen said on Federal News Radio’s Ask the CIO program. “I don’t know if the agencies have adopted the new tables yet. They just came out this summer. We know we have projects that are trying to make good faith efforts to move in an agile direction, but their material is still in the old tables.”

The challenge Larsen describes is one piece to the larger puzzle for why federal IT projects take so long and cost so much money. Federal News Radio reviewed data in the Federal IT Dashboard and found the average time it takes agencies to complete an IT program is 1,018 days and the average cost is $23.2 million per program.

While these raw numbers don’t tell the entire story about the length and cost of IT programs, they do show the struggle agencies have in moving off of the waterfall methodology.

Ann Dunkin, the EPA CIO, said many times the agency’s programs are a mix of agile and waterfall, and some projects define agile in different ways.

“We have to look at each of the projects individually. We are trying to drive things out of waterfall and into agile, and then by default, we will drive our average duration down,” said Dunkin, who as a political appointee is leaving EPA Jan. 20. “We then will be very clear about what projects are in operations and maintenance (O&M.) The reality is we have projects that say they are O&M, but they are about 80 percent O&M but are doing enhancements so we are trying to dig that out. Eventually what you will see is the projects are just describing things were people are actively doing development and you would be able to separate out the actual operations work in a different way. That’s what I hope we get from CPIC as well, that ability to differentiate the types of projects.”

Ann Dunkin, CIO at EPA.
Ann Dunkin, the CIO at EPA, will leave on Jan. 20.

Dunkin said the current approach to CPIC doesn’t work as well as it could and the year-long effort by OMB to improve it is welcomed.

She said the changes would help EPA better understand its real spending breakdown—legacy versus new or modernization efforts.

The Federal IT Dashboard reports that EPA is spending 85 percent of its $464 million IT budget on O&M, almost 9 percent on development, enhancement and modernization (DME) and almost 6 percent on provisioned or cloud services.

But Dunkin said more projects at EPA are doing a better job describing the DME spending and activities.

One important piece to moving EPA more into the agile process is a new contract that is coming through the General Services Administration. EPA held an industry day last fall and Dunkin said the next step in the procurement process is in the works—whether a request for information or something else.

In the meantime, EPA is addressing its legacy challenges in two ways. First, EPA is making progress with its E-Enterprise for the Environment, which is a program to change how the agency interacts with the regulated community, the states and the tribes. Dunkin said the portal will help resolve some legacy systems because it will let other components or customers move in and out easily, and let developers upgrade technology or add new functionality seamlessly.

The second initiative is getting off the Lotus Notes applications—22,000 in all—and building new ones based on platforms such as Microsoft’s SharePoint.

“We are going out for contract soon for a workflow solution that will either layer on top of SharePoint or will be a separate solution. We are driving that kind of work to platforms,” she said. “We just kicked off a review of SharePoint sites. We will review 25 percent a year, asking owners if they are still using it, is it still valuable so we don’t build up a pile of stuff we aren’t using.”