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The Chiefs' Chief

As the federal government's top IT administrator, Karen Evans is charged with simplifying and streamlining its operations and making agencies more responsive to the American public.

Government bureaucracy may sound redundant
to some, but Karen Evans is dead-set on
transforming it into an oxymoron. Evans,
administrator of the Office of Electronic
Government and Information Technology at
the Office of Management and Budget (OMB),
is the nation's de facto chief information officer.

After her predecessor, Mark Forman, set his sights elsewhere
and left government last year for a Silicon Valley startup, Evans
committed herself to following through on the challenge to
simplify and streamline IT operations across the government and
ensure that it is more responsive to the public. As only the
second holder of this job, Evans bears heavy expectations to
continue trailblazing.

Tasked with the job of turning
visionary initiatives into reality by
deputy director for management Clay
Johnson, Evans focused immediately on
completing 25 Quicksilver initiatives,
meeting cybersecurity goals, and building
cross-agency collaboration and
concensus.

A 20-year veteran of government IT
at the time, Evans brought a track
record of accomplishment, along with
the skill to combine teamwork with get-tough policies to cut through the
loggerjams that sometimes impede
progress in the federal government.

Evans recently spoke with Fed Tech
about meeting expectations for
performance, the agency's progress to
date and the road ahead.

Q: Your predecessor
Mark Forman came in
with such high
expectations and left
abruptly. Did that
create a disruption?

EVANS: No, because Mark and I
worked very closely together. I think
we were a good team. Mark was very
visionary. He set the tone for the
administration and what the
administration wanted to accomplish.

Mark laid all the groundwork, and
my job is to execute it and get the
results. I don't know that I would say
that we really missed a beat. The work
continued because we all knew what
needed to happen.

Q: Now that you're in
year two, where do
you stand on the
Quicksilver project?

EVANS: A lot of it is technically
deployed, so what we're working on
now is to realize the benefits of those
projects. In essence, we have to have
a marketing plan.

A good example is the IRS E-File.
Technically, it's deployed. The IRS has
a plan in place, they know exactly who
their target audience is, they have
advertisements. In the last set of
statistics I saw, they were well above
8.8 million returns from home
computers.

That's what we have to do for all of
the initiatives. It's one thing for it to be
technically done. It's another thing for
us to be able to quantify that we have
identified what the potential user base
is, that we have a good, solid plan in
place and that we have metrics so we
can demonstrate those results: Is this
being 90 percent utilized? What does it
cost to get that last 10 percent, and is
it worth it?

Q: In terms of the
rankings that go along
with the President's
Management Agenda,
how is the OMB doing
on e-gov?

EVANS: I think, on the chart, we're
still in the red. There are a lot of things
that agencies can do, that we can do
better, so we continue to monitor.

Q: Is it true that OMB
won't fund agencies'
new development
initiatives until they
meet their
cybersecurity goals?

EVANS: We made a recommendation
that no new efforts should go forward
until you've secured your existing
environment. [Cybersecurity is] one
of the things that we look at on the
President's Management Agenda on the
e-government scorecard. We're looking
at ways that we can help the agencies
achieve that. So yes, we did tie dollars
for the initiatives they want to do to
cybersecurity.

Q: How are agencies
doing in terms of
cybersecurity?

EVANS: We set specific goals for
ourselves to be accomplished, and we
didn't achieve those. For example, we
were supposed to have 80 percent of
our systems certified and accredited,
and we didn't. So we put that goal back
out there again, saying we would
achieve it this year.

On the fiscal 2005 budget, we
released a list of 18 agencies that still
needed to have a good remediation
plan in place in order to achieve the
goal of 80 percent.

Q: Does that mean
that the agencies that
haven't met the 80
percent goal for
systems certification
won't get funding for
new initiatives?

EVANS: It means that they have to
come up with a plan and tell us how
much it's going to cost to meet that
plan to achieve the overall 80 percent
goal of systems certified. That plan will
be reviewed by the budget side and by
my side of the house to see if it's
realistic, whether they can achieve it
and to identify funding sources.

Q: In addition to
cybersecurity, what
are the biggest
challenges you face
in your job?

EVANS: Every challenge presents an
opportunity. We see opportunities
before us in the areas of
strengthening cybersecurity,
tightening project management
and integrating the enterprise
architecture more fully into the
budget process.

Q: Why is your office
so focused on
developing enterprise
architecture plans for
individual agencies
and the federal
government as a
whole?

EVANS: Because that's your road map
of how to move forward. It allows [a
CIO] to see everything the way that it
is. You map out where you want to
be—your to-be architecture— and
then you can see what it's going to take
for you to get from where you are to
where you need to be. So your
modernization efforts and investments
can be driving where you want to go.

We're a policy office and we have a
global overarching modernization
plan, and all of the agencies have
individual plans. Some agencies have a
specific line of business they are
responsible for, but there are other
areas where they share a line of
business, like homeland security.
Together, they can see what the
overarching plan is from the federal
enterprise architecture level, and then
they can derive their specific plans
from that.

Q: Managing agencies
like lines of business:
Is that something
that's developed over
a period of time or is
it something the
current administration
pushed?

EVANS: It's something that the current
administration has really put an
emphasis on. We have always had
budget guidelines … but the emphasis
that this administration has put out is
"Let's really manage our IT portfolio
and use the tools that are here." These
are really investment decisions made
with both the budget side and the
management side.

Q: You've said that
the Department of
Agriculture is on the
right track when it
comes to improving
technology portfolio
management. What
specifically is it doing
right, and what can
other agencies learn
from its example?

EVANS: The Department of
Agriculture took the initiative and has
aligned its IT portfolio with the federal
enterprise architecture. It uses the
results to identify opportunities to
collaborate and consolidate IT systems
both within and external to the
department.

Q: What do outsiders
need to understand
about the way IT
functions in the
federal government?

EVANS: The distinct roles of Congress
and the executive branch constitute a
unique governance process not found
in commercial business. For example,
as in business, the budget formulation
process plays a major role in decision-making. However, agencies manage
three budget years at a time: the
present budget year, the proposed
budget before Congress and the
formulation of the budget for the
fiscal year following.

When this process is aligned with
other processes, like the enterprise
architecture and performance
development, one can see the unique
challenges that may arise.

THE FILE

AGENCY INFO:

The Office of Management
and Budget, a White
House agency, helps
the president develop
the federal budget and
administer it throughout
the federal government,
which consists of more
than 100 agencies, boards
and commissions, as well
as 4.8 million military and
civilian employees.

OMB, which has 510
employees, evaluates the
effectiveness of agency
programs, policies and
procedures and sets
funding priorities for the
federal government.

PERSONAL BIO:

As administrator of the
Office of Electronic
Government and
Information Technology at
the White House Office of
Management and Budget,
Karen Evans oversees the
implementation of IT
across all federal agencies.
Before her presidential
appointment in September
2003, Evans was chief
information officer of the
Department of Energy and
vice chairman of the
federal CIO Council. In her
20 years in government,
Evans has also held
management positions at
the Justice and Agriculture
departments.

Dec 31 2009

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