Karen Evans Q&A: 'Manage from a corporate perspective'

Karen Evans, vice chair of the federal Chief Information Officers Council, advocates using industry best practices for training and certifying IT project managers.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Karen Evans, a federal employee of more than 20 years, became chief information officer of the Energy Department in January 2002. In December 2002, she became vice chair of the federal Chief Information Officers Council. The council is the principal forum for agency CIOs to develop recommendations for federal information technology management policy, procedures and standards.

As vice chairman, Evans has called for federal CIOs to continue developing a governance process for IT architecture and to develop standards for common transactions between government agencies. She also backs Office of Management and Budget recommendations that federal agencies adopt a corporate approach to managing IT resources. Evans recently talked with Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery about what her goals mean for the IT industry.

WT: How will these goals or changes you have outlined affect the government's IT contractors?

Evans: They will give better definition to the services they will be bidding on and working on for agencies and departments. [Contractors] will be able to see ? from the federal enterprise architecture ? each department's needs, how they work, what their business lines are, and [contractors] will be able to see how their services will be able to fit into that and provide a service to the agencies, to the departments and to the government as a whole.

WT: Two components of the federal enterprise architecture have been published: the performance reference model, which agencies are commenting on, and the business reference model. What's next?

Evans: Three additional models will come out: the service component model, technical reference model and data reference model. When contractors look at these documents, they will be able to follow a business line all the way through and see what types of data, what types of services, what types of technical components are in there. I think it will really help them to better prepare for when they come in and do proposals to the government for services.

WT: How can contractors help federal agencies embrace a corporate approach to managing IT resources?

Evans: I personally would like to manage more from a corporate perspective, for example, a big company such as Microsoft or Oracle. They used architecture, and they standardized how they went forward. You see the same ads that I do, that they realized a billion dollars worth of savings. They have the experience. They can really help us engineer solutions that would maximize our assets, so that we could manage from a corporate perspective. Contractors have a lot of capability, a lot of innovation that is available to them.
And I think the way the E-Gov Act [of 2002] is set up ? the contracting capability for shared savings ? provides incentives for contractors to come up with really innovative ways to propose back to us, and then they have the opportunity to share in the savings that the government would realize.

WT: So that provision of the E-Gov Act will help?

Evans: Absolutely. That allows for a lot of innovation and creativity and interaction with private industry IT companies and the government.

WT: Can contractors help develop standards for transactions across government?

Evans: The council would go through organizations such as ITAA [Information Technology Association of America] and IAC [Industry Advisory Council] to give us grounding that we are moving in an appropriate direction, before this becomes a standard and nobody can do it. It is our intention that we would partner with industry.

WT: When you took the CIO Council vice chairmanship, you said the government needs a work force trained to carry out large projects, and that the council should develop standards for IT work-force training. What has the council done in that regard so far?

Evans: The work-force and human-capital committee has been working on an IT work-force skills gap project. They have completed the [skills gap] survey [of agencies] and are analyzing it. OMB has required that we have certification of the project managers on our major investments.

At Energy, we have instituted a program this year that will get all the project managers on our major investments certified by the end of the fiscal year at what we call level 1. The work-force and human-capital committee is to standardize agency definitions of level 1, so when a project manager is certified in one department, that will have consistent meaning across the government.

WT: So they are developing standards for training?

Evans: Yes. And [if there is] any kind of gap between the program we have instituted here [at Energy] and what comes out of that committee's work, Energy will adjust, like any other department will adjust.

WT: Did the council agree with Mark Forman, OMB administrator of e-government and information technology, that you need world-class project managers on these large projects?

Evans: Yes. Everyone agrees that we need to be good stewards of the public's money so that we are achieving the outcomes [of] these projects in support of each agency or department mission.

WT: Can private contractors provide contracted project managers or project management training?

Evans: Industry has a whole sector associated with certifying project managers. The intent is not to duplicate what industry already has done. We really do believe: Create once, use many. The intent is for us to use what industry already has as best practices or training courses or certifications. That is what Energy is doing. We are taking off-the-shelf courses, training, and we have incorporated that into our program.

As far as having a contractor be the program manager, that has been discussed internally. The government is ultimately the steward of the money, [but] that doesn't mean you don't have industry supporting you to achieve the goals of the project. That's probably still being looked at through several facets of the President's Management Agenda.

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at gemery@postnewsweektech.com.

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