|October 26, 2006: Minutes.
The initial meeting of the FACADatabase Task Force was held from 10:00 am to 11:40am in
Room 4201 at the GSA Central Office Building,
1800 F Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20405
All members of the Task Force listed on the roster (separate attachment) were present either in person or by conference call except for Mr. David Cleary. Mr. Cleary was our most recent nominee from NIH, and his name was provided initially without phone number or email, so he could not be alerted or invited in advance of the meeting.
The agenda for the meeting was:
1. Meet and Greet.
2. Review the history of FACA relevant to the current system structure, functionality, and purpose over the past 10 years.
3. Revise and flesh out the draft charter relative to our goals, tasks, requirements, resources, and roles.
1. The Meet and Greet portion of the meeting established that we have a broad cross-section of the FACA community on the Task Force, with 10 agencies currently represented. Most of the members were either the CMOs from their agencies or had CMO responsibilities. There seemed to be general agreement that while the membership certainly had obvious experience and depth, the Task Force’s ability to accomplish its goals would be strengthened by having a few more DFOs and/or GFOs. The membership agreed to seek out and identify a few more such members. Only a couple of members were involved with FACA prior to the existing FACADatabase system, which will be 10 years in use at the end of FY 06’s Annual Comprehensive Review (ACR) cycle.
2. Dr. Fussell brought the group up to speed on the history of FACA in the context of the FACADatabase. This was an explanation of the current system structure, functionality, and purpose over the last 10 years.
a. The system was established and existed for the first few years to replace the paper reporting system used to generate the data for the “Annual Report” submitted over the President’s signature to Congress from 1972 through 1998.
b. The system was a minimalist venture, entirely funded by the Secretariat out of limited resources transferred from other operational accounts (mostly from an unfilled staff position), staff time, and existing staff knowledge of software and the web (mostly Dr. Fussell). The funds secured over the last ten years were translated contractually into web hosting, conceptualizing, and programming support provided almost completely by Bruce Troutman. The original structure derived from the data required on the reporting forms and the basic rules articulated in FACA, its amendments, and the GSA rule in place in 1997.
c. The system became part of the GSA Final Rule of 2001, which made it a FACA compliance requirement.
d. In 1999, as part of the “Paperwork Reduction Act”, Congress discontinued the requirement for the “Annual Report”. However, the law (FACA) continued to require an Annual Comprehensive Review (ACR), which was actually a more fundamental part of the committee tracking and management process than the summary report. Dropping the requirement for the “Annual Report” did not reduce the data reporting requirements of FACA at all. As a matter of record, Congress, including the Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress, the White House including the Executive Office of the President, OMB, and GAO, have asked for new data collection items to be added every year since 2000. In some instances the items were always present in FACA’s data tracking requirements, but had not been previously collected, and in other instances they were wholly new and derived from the FACA community’s management needs.
e. Modules were added to the system incrementally over the years to address the management and reporting needs mentioned above. This was done in different years and at different points in time during the years, separately and together. Most new modules required “workarounds” due to the limitations of the original data design and technology, but somehow it all hung together and maintained a certain degree of connectedness and functionality. This was due in no small part to the creativity of the consultant and Secretariat staff, supported beyond the pale by the CMOs, and the patience and sufferance of the DFO community.
f. When we look ahead, we see that in the not too distant future, some major resources to the corporate knowledge and memory of the FACA community and the FACADatabase system will be moving on from government service.
g. We also see that in a similar timeframe that the software and technology upon which the FACADatabase is built will be reaching the end of its useful life.
h. The moment is also timely in that database and web development technology has just undergone a significant shift in stability, dependability, and ease of use. Fortunately, we have secured funding (approximately 400k over the next 2 years) and a supportive contract that will allow us to build a new system utilizing the more up-to-date technology.
i. We expect the new system to include the functionality of the current system while being significantly remodeled to eliminate most existing problems and limitations. The new system will be structured based on the lessons learned over the past ten years combined with a careful and in depth articulation of the anticipated needs of the FACA community for the next ten years.
j. While we, the Task Force, are defining, developing, building, and testing the new system, we, the FACA community, will be using the existing system, through the next two ACR cycles in FY 07 and FY 08. The system will be maintained in its current state, with most glitches removed, and with the user documentation complete for all parts of the system. Most of the problems of the past, beyond the design limitations, were introduced when new functionality was added in response to outside requests. We do not expect to add new functionality to the existing system from this point forward, and we expect the current ACR cycle to identify most of our remaining glitches. We expect that our next two ACRs should be relatively trouble-free in terms of the system since we will not be adding new changes.
k. We anticipate introducing the new system we will develop to the rest of the community as a finished, functional system at the beginning of FY 09. However, there is nothing sacred about that deadline. The new system will only be submitted to the certification and accreditation process when it is finished, and the new system will only be considered finished when this Task Force considers that it is clearly a functionally superior tool to the existing system.
The group commented and discussed the information above as it was introduced. Not all of the information or points above were introduced by Dr. Fussell.
3. The group did not work further during the meeting on the charter or set a time for the next meeting. Dr. Fussell asked the group to examine the charter document and to notice that it embraced a larger context than just the system.
To reiterate the draft charter:
The Task Force is established to provide the GSA Committee Management Secretariat (Secretariat) and the IAC with advice and recommendations on how best to collect, interpret, evaluate and disseminate information on Federal advisory committees. The Task Force will: a) evaluate the needs of the government wide FACA community and determine what information needs exist; b) identify necessary outputs and reporting functions needed to help Federal managers obtain the most accurate and current information on their advisory committees; and c) evaluate the existing GSA web-based FACA Database and develop recommendations on functional improvements to the system and types of output reports needed.
The very first draft was formatted differently and stated:
1) The Task Force will evaluate the needs of the government wide FACA community and determine what information needs exist;
2) Based on these needs, the Task Force will identify necessary outputs and reporting functions needed to help Federal managers obtain the most accurate and current information on their advisory committees;
3) The Task Force will evaluate the existing GSA web-based FACA Database and develop recommendations on functional improvements to the system and types of reports needed;
4) The Task Force will serve as an advisory group to GSA on development of the next generation of the FACA Database; and
5) The Task Force will evaluate the current annual comprehensive review (ACR) process and suggest improvements.
While either of the examples above is clearly an incomplete draft, they both have implications for the context and process of the ACR and they both extend the reporting needs and requirements that currently underlie the functionality of the current system.
Bruce Troutman, the winning contractor and consultant to the Task Force indicated that he would be setting up multiple web sites for the Task Force’s use. A major web site will be the user testing site for our Task Force members to use as we proceed with the development of the new system built with modern web tools and current database technology. But one of the first sites visible to the Task Force will be a Message Board to use as a message posting and idea exchange location for our work. We will be sending information on the site location out when it is available. At that time, the members of the Task Force are invited to post their expanded and detailed thoughts on the charter for our work (minimally) over the next two years. When we have finalized the charter, the message board will continue to be used as a central location to enter, list, and track our evolving ideas and requirements for the new system.
The charter is the starting point. Every member is asked to look to the charter to see what it embraces and what is missing. If you and your agency have a particular concern about the data collection process or the data collection tool and its range and breadth, the charter is the place to define that issue into or out of the process. We are all invited to take what is there and rewrite it to make it a working document to guide our efforts and meet the FACA community’s needs.
We finished the meeting with Dr. Fussell indicating that he would prepare the minutes, distribute them, and set up a time for the next meeting. It was anticipated that the next meeting would be well into November.