Managing information technology in the federal government: new policies for an information age

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The federal government relies extensively on information technology to perform its basic missions. This study is a formative program evaluation of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) primary policy for overseeing federal agency management of information technology. The goal of the research is to assess the effectiveness of OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources," in shaping federal agency management of information technology.

As part of this evaluation, it was necessary to illuminate and interpret the policy framework used in the federal government for managing information technology. The results of this analysis show that the public laws shaping the policy framework include fundamentally different criteria for how federal agencies should evaluate investments in information technology. OMB's policy mirrors this lack of clarity and more generally reflects outdated views of information technology management techniques.

This policy framework provided a basis for judging federal agencies' interpretation of OMB's policy as of September 1991. An analysis of 21 agencies' policies for managing information technology revealed an inconsistent adoption of the substantive requirements contained in the policy framework. The analysis of agencies' policies revealed four groupings that distinguished the differing degrees of consistency with the policy framework.

Based on the degree of consistency between agencies' policies and the policy framework, the analysis examined elements of the decision-making environments in four federal agencies. A comparison of these case study results showed that the effectiveness of OMB's policy for managing information technology depended on several variables, which include: (1) the consistency between agencies' policies and the policy framework, (2) whether and how information technology policy was enforced, (3) the role of oversight groups internal and external to the agency, and (4) the culture of the agency and agreement around core missions.

This evaluation research found OMB's policy for overseeing federal management of information technology outdated and incomplete. These weaknesses resulted in inconsistent application and enforcement of the OMB policy and the policy framework in the four agency cases examined. The study presents recommendations for how OMB can improve content and enforcement of its policy for overseeing federal agency management of information technology.



United States