Running a federal financial system often a juggling act

The American Council for Technology's Industry Advisory Council gave some advice to the White House on how to sustain effective management of existing federal financial systems while also modernizing those systems.

An industry task force advising the White House on financial system modernization programs at federal agencies recommended a sustainment strategy that combines ongoing management with a clear view of the long-term business architecture, according to the group's report.

At the request of Daniel Werfel, controller for the White House’s Office of Federal Financial Management, the American Council for Technology’s Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) made recommendations on sustainability of the management gains made in the recent overhaul of about 30 federal financial systems modernizations programs.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget froze the projects in June 2010 to undergo review. Subsequently, the programs were canceled or restructured and are now moving forward, Werfel said.


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The ACT-IAC Financial Management Working Group was chaired by Anne Reed, CEO of ASI Government Inc., and Andrew McLauchlin, executive director of the CGI Initiative for Collaborative Government. The working group delivered its 73-page report to OMB June 24. Highlights of the report were presented at a meeting with Werfel June 29.

“The overall objective of this strategy is to reduce the risks of new investments in federal financial systems, improve the timeliness of system development and upgrade initiatives, and enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of federal financial management activities,” ACT-IAC said in a news release.

“As a former senior government executive with experience in both IT and financial management, I know the complexities associated with acquiring and implementing financial management information systems,” Reed said. “We are delighted to present OMB with a set of unanimous recommendations that we believe can have a real impact.”

Among the issues that OMB asked to be addressed are how to best manage hybrid systems in which some parts of the systems are modernized and other parts are legacy systems, and how to set criteria for determining whether to make incremental investments in existing systems or larger investments in modernization initiatives.

Having new systems “under construction” should not be an excuse for poor performance of existing systems, Werfel said. “You still have a responsibility to get the most of your existing systems.” And with budget constraints, federal agencies may need to “leverage their existing systems longer,” he added.

In their report, ACT-IAC executives made four recommendations:

  • Leverage portfolio management to address agency needs and clearly define the long-range business architecture.
  • Employ standard “decision criteria” to determine the viability of an existing system.
  • Increase communication among executive leadership, agency program managers and the vendor community, and create a new management role for the active management and analysis of emerging requirements.
  • Continually assess new technologies, deployment methods and business models to improve the federal financial management processes.

Werfel said ACT-IAC’s recommendations will be reviewed by the CFO Council and the federal Financial Systems Advisory Board.

He praised the industry group’s feedback as being a valuable tool for helping to manage the financial system modernizations on an ongoing basis.

“This is very helpful,” Werfel said. “I consider this a very important data point. I gave them my most vexing policy questions.”