Taking e-gov one step at a time

2003 E-Gov Report to Congress

Agencies are showing steady progress in many areas of the E-Government Act of 2002, laying the foundation that will later demonstrate the benefits of the law's provisions, administration officials and experts said last week.

The Office of Management and Budget submitted a congressionally mandated report to lawmakers quantifying the progress agencies have made in meeting the 18 provisions of the law.

Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology, said agencies are making strides but still have room for improvement. "It's the first step of many," she said. "It's learning to walk before you run. This clearly demonstrates they are moving in the right direction."

Some e-government activities are further along than others, but on each provision, agencies showed improvement, said Dan Chenok, former OMB branch chief for information policy and technology and now vice president and director of policy and management strategies at SRA International Inc.

"In virtually every area, OMB and/or the agencies have made progress in pulling together committees, putting out guidance, furthering Web site work," Chenok said. "The act was fairly ambitious, and I think OMB has demonstrated in the report [that] they are well on their way to achieving the provisions of the act."

The OMB report also details the status of the central e-government fund and agencies' accomplishments in e-government activities. The report is based on information agencies submitted to OMB last December.

Many of the activities highlighted in the report were well underway before the act was passed in December 2002, said Theresa Pardo, deputy director of the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany.

For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has had an information-sharing initiative in place since 1988. Nonetheless, the E-Government Act provided the framework for agency officials to focus and share their efforts in that area and on e-government initiatives in general, she said.

"The report shows that a lot of the agencies have been investing in e-government using these standards before the standards were expressed in the E-Gov Act," Pardo said. "The E-Gov Act institutionalizes some of that good thinking."

Agency officials have taken the initial steps outlined in the act by changing the way they think about the business of their organizations, Pardo said. It takes time to see the real benefits and they will likely be demonstrated in future OMB reports.

"Over time, [agency officials] can speak more specifically to how individual agencies are adhering to the various frameworks and standards and the benefits in terms of their accomplishments," she said. "I's nice to have the whole picture, but we're not there yet."

Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International LLC and former chief of information policy and technology at OMB, said he was impressed with the amount of e-government activities underway. "For the first time, one can go and look in one place and see something about all of it. [OMB officials] did a good job collecting and painting the big picture about what's happening."

The report also details how the central e-government fund has been allocated, which McConnell said could help Bush administration officials make a case to Congress for increasing funding.

For the past three years, the administration had requested $20 million to

$45 million, but Congress continually slashed the fund, calling on agencies to find their own resources. For fiscal 2005, the administration asked for $5 million, supplemented by $40 million from a fund of agency-collected fees.

"This is a much smaller amount of money than they wanted, but I think they are off to a good start showing they can manage the money in an effective way," McConnell said.

Evans said officials decided to provide the extensive details to show how the fund is used. The details also show that the fund was useful in helping get projects started.

"This is a great way to get a project going while we have the traditional budget process catch up, and agencies can do adequate planning for the future of the initiative," she said.

According to the report, $4.9 million of the $5 million appropriated for the e-gov ernment fund in fiscal 2002 went to nine initiatives, with the remaining money carrying over to fiscal 2003. The General Services Administration's E-Authentication initiative received the largest chunk of the fiscal 2002 money — $2 million — to develop an automated risk assessment tool for governmentwide use, and to certify and accredit the E-Authentication Gateway. Other initiatives received $100,000 to $800,000 each.

In fiscal 2003, OMB received $500,000 of the nearly $5 million appropriated for the first phase of an initiative to analyze IT investments across specific lines of business and identify opportunities for common solutions.

OMB received an additional $600,000 for the second phase of the project, which involves continuing development in four areas: financial management, human resources management, case management and federal health systems architecture. These lines of business have been considered the next phase of e-government.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the act's co-author, said he plans to ask the General Accounting Office to review the government's compliance with the act.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee and a sponsor of the law, said the report shows significant agency progress in complying with the law's provisions.

"We knew as soon as the legislation was enacted that persistent congressional oversight would be required to ensure completion of the initiatives," said David Marin, spokesman for Davis. "Davis is committed to providing that oversight."

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