FCW Forum | E-Government

Bush's legacy is Obama's uncertain mandate

Mark Forman’s early work lives on, but here's what must come next

When Mark Forman packed up his office in August 2003, he promised that the Bush administration would remain fully committed to the e-government component of the President’s Management Agenda. Forman, who left the Office of Management and Budget for a new career at KPMG, had reason to feel possessive about the initiatives. Empowered by the E-Government Act of 2002, he had led the program from its birth through its early stages.

Remarkably, all 24 of the initiatives have survived, despite scant congressional support and small budgets. I found them all still available at their original Web addresses. Portal managers had updated each site at least once in 2008, with the exception of the records management site, which, because of the nature of its content, does not need updating as frequently as the others do.

The fact that the original 24 sites are active and have current information was a pleasant surprise. Many government officials did a remarkable job. Tribute is due to Karen Evans and her staff at OMB, John Sindelar and his staff at the General Services Administration, and the many agency managers who carried on without a lot of support for more than five years.

The success of the e-government initiatives — and the related lines-of-business initiatives that enable agencies to share back-end services — suggests that the government of the future can be one in which agency managers and policy-makers take a holistic view of government.

However, for now, the government continues to be composed of isolated silos. Budgets, legislative authority and congressional oversight committees are all based on individual agencies and departments, not on a broader view of the whole government. In addition, most managers have strong allegiance to their agencies and less to governmentwide goals.

The Obama administration has an opportunity to take a giant step forward. Collaboration and consolidation will save barrels of money while creating a streamlined, integrated government.

How can we get there when there are no organizations and only a few scattered people in government who think in those broad terms? Which people and organizations will help guide agency officials and Congress to the end state? At present, there is a void. But here are some suggestions for President Barack Obama and his team.
  • Create a new position of chief transformation officer at each agency. Staff the positions with capable people who share the goal of creating a government without boundaries and who already know how to make things happen in the government.
  • Create a White House office of federal, state and local government coordination to work collaboratively — not dictatorially — with state and local government officials.
  • Create another White House office to focus on collaborative strategies for the federal government as a whole.
  • Rethink the systems by which agency managers are rewarded so they are encouraged to take a comprehensive view and collaborate governmentwide.
Such an opportunity won’t come again until the next time a new administration arrives. Obama should move quickly to seize it. Once the new team members settle into their jobs, they will become busy with their daily work and have little time to think about taking down the boundaries.

About the Author

McDonough, an independent management consultant, left government in 2003 after a 35-year career in various senior management positions. He can be reached at frank@frankamcdonough.com.

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Reader comments

Tue, Feb 17, 2009 Washington DC

Are you kidding? Take a look at OMB's own figures and you will see that eGov saved $400M last year. But establishing eGov offices in all of the federal agencies and the constant barrage of data calls have cost much more than was saved. Despite millions spent on Enterprise Architecture, few if any duplications have been reduced. The only attempt at sharing and collaboration, CORE.Gov, was a complete failure and has pretty much been shut down. The government needs collaboration and reuse but OMB and e-Gov have focused on metrics about work rather than actual work and as a result have accomplished nothing of note. What's more, the manual data call method that OMB uses to gather its information ensures that what they gather is both slow and inaccurate. It is incredible in this day and age to learn that despite all of the technical tools in the world today, OMB is still largely manually driven. All of the information they gather is put into spreadsheets because they lack the basics for effectively aggregating data: a database and the vision to use one. The largest organization in the world and it completely lacks an automated Management Information System? Incredible but true. The legacy that the Bush Administration has left this administration is that their work is cut out for them.

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