Teamwork a must in lieu of e-gov funding

With Congress still showing little inclination to provide a central e-government fund, federal agencies will have to change their strategies to ensure the initiatives move forward, according to officials at the Office of Management and Budget.

Since launching the 24 e-government initiatives three years ago, the Bush administration has stressed the importance of a central pool of money, which would make it easier to fund programs that cut across different agencies.

In lieu of a central fund, agencies will have to work together more, said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology.

That's not an obstacle because they have already been collaborating on funding, according to some e-government program managers. Despite the budget problems, the initiatives have not lost momentum, they said.

But the question is whether the recent cuts by Congress signals a lack of support for the initiatives, observers said.

The House Appropriations Committee slashed fiscal 2004 dollars targeted for e-government to $1 million, far less than the $45 million the Bush administration had requested.

Administration officials are bullish.

"That just increases the challenge and [provides] more opportunity for cross-agency collaboration," Evans said last week, speaking at a press briefing. "The agencies will have to rise to the challenge to meet that." Evans noted that 94 percent of funding in fiscal 2003 came through cross-agency collaboration.

Denis Gusty, program manager for GovBenefits.gov, said agencies have joined forces all along, and that he and other program directors are still positive about the merits of the initiatives.

"That really hasn't changed my perspective on our e-gov initiative," Gusty said of the funding. "We've managed to collect the funds from our partners for the last couple years. I am going to continue to work along those lines until someone tells me I will get my money elsewhere."

Congress' reductions did not mean lawmakers don't view the e-government initiatives as essential but that the administration needs to do a better job making their case, said Clay Johnson, OMB deputy director of management.

"What Congress is saying is that they do not disagree with the need to invest these funds substantially," he said. "They just disagree with the funding mechanism. They would prefer us to work with the agencies to get it funded."

The administration has not been persuasive enough with lawmakers, Johnson said, adding that White House officials plan to engage Congress about more funding in coming years.

"If they don't fund it, the beat goes on," he said.

The funding issues have inspired some creativity.

Oscar Morales, program manager for the e-Rulemaking initiative, said the program's leaders came up with a funding algorithm to ensure agencies were chipping in the fair amount from the beginning. By being open about how they determined the funding, agencies have been able to collaborate, he said, which is crucial to success. "It made sense," he said of the process.

Evans, who took over the OMB position this month, said she would continue the vision and the work started by her predecessor, Mark Forman. She said she would carry on concentrating efforts on the federal enterprise architecture for promoting effective IT management, particularly in the areas of security, project planning and implementation, privacy and the E-Government Act of 2002.

"As we near the completion of the president's e-gov initiatives...the administration's agenda and IT reform efforts will continue to adapt," Evans said.

The challenges moving forward, Johnson said, will be working with agencies to ensure they have the expertise and support they need. With 20 years of experience in the federal government, Evans understands how hard that can be and knows how to effect change, he said.

Evans came to the position after a year and a half as the chief information officer at the Energy Department. She was also vice chairwoman of the CIO Council --a role that allowed her to lead agencies by representing them. "I understand what the difficulties are of what we are trying to accomplish and the effect these have on the government employees and the agencies," she said. "This is really about leadership and partnership."

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said the change in leadership at OMB "has probably been about as smooth a transition as could have been made." That change should signal to agencies that the administration is serious about moving forward, he said. Further, Evan's strong support in the federal IT community will help keep the momentum going, he added.

However, agencies could construe the funding cuts as a lack of support, said Bob Woods, chairman of the Industry Advisory Council. "I think the budget is a form of policy-making. It says what is important," he said. "When a budget doesn't come through, it says it's less important than other things. It does take on a sense of 'nice to have' or 'good thing to say.' It's not Iraq; it's not terrorism; it's not airport security."

The slash of the central e-government fund means that Evans and other OMB officials will have to prioritize projects, Allen said, by focusing efforts on highly visible projects that can be portrayed as success stories. OMB will also have to continue to pressure agencies to share the brunt of the funding, he said.

"There is going to be a lot of inertia in agencies if they are happy with doing things the way they are doing them and don't want to take money from what they have," Allen said. "So I think how successful that will be will be directly related to how much arm twisting [OMB officials] can do."

2014 Rising Star Awards

Help us find the next generation of leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above