A turning point for e-government

When Mark Forman leaves the Office of Management and Budget, ending his gov- ernment career, he will leave the e-government initiatives and other components of the President's Management Agenda balanced between long-term success and failure.

Forman has served as the initiatives' prime mover and soul for two years, observers say, and no one knows if his successor will bring the same fire to the post.

E-government's strongest advocates are hopeful that Forman, who is leaving Aug. 15 to take a position with a young, unidentified California technology firm, has done enough — that the projects he has started and the mind-set he has fostered can be sustained.

Forman's drive and focus on reform have been especially critical in the face of the minuscule funding Congress has granted for the 24 initiatives — only $5 million for each of the first two years and possibly only $1 million for 2004, despite the Bush administration's consistent requests for more. Forman has encouraged agencies to find funding in other ways and move the initiatives ahead, his supporters say.

He has taught agency managers to think of their budgets and the performance of their information technology as linked and to think in terms of justifying expenditures with a business case, said consultant Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc.

"He has really changed the mind-set in this town. That, to me, is the biggest change agent I've seen in my experience," Mather said. "I think [the initiatives have] enough momentum that somebody will be able to pick up the ball and keep it moving."

E-government managers expressed appreciation for Forman's leadership mixed with confidence that they are poised to move ahead without him.

"He's been a fabulous change agent and a real help to us in getting the agency's focus," said Charles Havekost, project manager for the Grants.gov initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services. "I'm personally going to miss his enthusiasm. His leadership has been excellent. [But] we're going to get there despite his departure."

Although agencies have begun to make the full-scale change of mentality that Forman inspired, Havekost said his successor will need the same drive and passion.

In an important sense, Forman's greatest contribution to e-government was simply that he grasped its import, said Hank Garie, executive director of the Geospatial One-Stop initiative at the Interior Department.

"Mark was — is — a tremendous supporter of the program," Garie said. "I think he really understood the strategic value of geographic information as an asset. It was really refreshing to hear someone at his level get the importance."

Not all observers are as confident. Consultant Robert Guerra of Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates, said he is worried about the future of e-government, the enterprise architecture program and other management reforms.

His worry stems from his conviction that the e-government initiatives themselves are not that important, but the mind-set they demonstrate — using technology to achieve a goal and understanding the relationship between the two — is critical.

"Without Mark's energy and passion and intensity behind it, I'm concerned whether or not there is anyone that has the authority to put the pressure behind the effort," he said.

M.J. Jameson, associate administrator of the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Communications, pins her hopes for the future of the President's Management Agenda on the importance that the Bush administration places on it.

"Given President Bush's determination to move forward with his e-gov initiatives, we have every confidence that what Mark started will continue under his successor," she said.

Forman himself expressed optimism that his work has seeded something with a long-term future.

"I just really appreciate the people in both government and industry that have started to focus on how do we deal with the tough issues in getting better results out of IT spending; how do we grapple with the notion that we're not just paving cowpaths," but instead making real changes in the ways things are done, he said. "Many people have pitched in. I think that's so terrific for the country. The results will pay off for many years forward."

Norm Lorentz, OMB's chief technology officer, will temporarily take over Forman's duties until the agency names a replacement.

Nancy Ferris contributed to this report.

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Heard on the circuit

The Office of Management and Budget reportedly has a list of four candidates to replace Mark Forman, administrator of OMB's Office of E-Government and Information Technology. Although Phil Kiviat, of Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates, said he does not know who the candidates are, he can make some educated guesses.

"I think it's going to be an inside-the-government choice," he said. "Of the [chief information officers], it would have to be somebody who had already met all of Mark's objectives, which puts [Energy CIO] Karen Evans and [Environmental Protection Agency CIO] Kim Nelson at the top of the list. You could also find some [chief financial officers] on that list. Mark has been characterizing the CIOs less and less as IT people and more as business transformers. I wouldn't be surprised if they took somebody out of the CFO community." Norm Lorentz, OMB's chief technology officer, could also be tapped to take the position, Kiviat added.

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