OMB calls for inclusion of modular IT development into agency capital planning
Guidance released June 14 by the Office of Management and Budget on modular development of federal information technology systems says agencies should adjust capital planning and investment control, and related policies to more explicitly incorporate modular IT approaches.
OMB under the Obama administration has encouraged agencies to embrace modular IT development in favor of waterfall projects that take years to produce deliverables that often are outdated by the time they're complete thanks to the rapid pace of technological change. Such "grand design" projects often also overrun their budget and schedule and not unusually collapse under their own weight.
In fact, a need for segmenting IT system development into projects with narrow scopes and a brief duration has been OMB policy since at least the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. OMB Circular A-130, which was revised in 2000 and which embodies OMB policy for management of federal information resources, calls on agencies to precisely do that, as the June 14 guidance acknowledges.
The guidance (.pdf) also emphasizes indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contracts as a means for supporting modular development, since it states that "IDIQ contracts are likely to be the most popular contracting form" for modular development.
IDIQs, whether with a single or multiple contractors, allow agencies to "issue small orders for short time periods to fulfill specific project development needs within six month intervals as well as rapid response activities in 90 day periods," the guidance states.
Modular development is not without risks, the document also notes, since it requires a strong integration methodology to ensure that the modules add up to a working system.
Not discussed in the document is the danger that, just as with waterfall development, agencies may postpone difficult tasks until later in the development process, causing a modularly-developed system to also crack under its own complexity.
The guidance says it "is not intended to provide comprehensive guidance concerning a development methodology or standards for a modular software development lifecycle."
In a White House blog post signed by Joe Jordan, the new administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and Steven VanRoekel, the Federal chief information officer, OMB states that in the coming weeks it will "work with the agencies that already have had success [with modular development] to meet with other agencies and share their insight."