Focus on the basics

E-government has enormous potential to eliminate bureaucratic barriers and leap ahead to the kind of service, protection and connection that Americans want and deserve.

In President Bush's management agenda, e-government is a cornerstone for developing a citizen-focused, cross-functional government. And the progress made during the past year has been remarkable. The 24 major governmentwide e-government initiatives are beginning to transform service delivery to citizens, businesses and government employees.

But strategic leadership and a disciplined focus on adopting effective technology management practices are still absolutely essential to achieving meaningful results for citizens, who are both the customers and owners of government. The need for continued innovation has never been greater. The customer is still always right and — just as important — must be at the center of the e-government revolution.

To be successful, e-government must improve the speed of information and services, offer better services and reduce costs for activities and transactions.

Technology alone is not the answer, however. Achieving higher levels of government performance also involves motivating people and improving processes. Four success factors — "e-tensions" — are critical. They are:

* Governance. Today's rapid, integrated flow of information and services on the Internet and intranets doesn't fit with stand-alone structures and hierarchical decision-making. We need more collaborative models to identify, fund and manage cross-agency and intergovernmental initiatives.

* Culture change. Tension exists between the well-established vertical constituencies of programs and the horizontal, cross-boundary approach of e-government. Managing this culture change means tackling those issues honestly.

* Workforce challenges. E-Government may result in a leaner federal workforce, demanding workers to embrace a new version of the "three Rs": retool, re-educate and constantly refresh their skills. Our hiring, training and retention strategies will need new Rs too: rethinking and reform.

n Infrastructure investment. Finally, adequate spending on infrastructure is essential to realizing e-government's promise. Serious attention must go to more flexible appropriation of funds to encourage collaborative use of the $60 billion that federal agencies spend annually on information technology.

"E-government" can no longer just mean electronic government. It must also mean efficient, effective, energized and, ultimately, excellent government. We are seeing government migrate toward ways of doing business that run counter to the core fabric of the past and the genetic code of many of its existing organizations. In the end, e-government must produce positive results and real benefits to citizens. If it does, its promise will become reality.

McGinnis is president and chief executive officer of the Council for Excellence in Government. For more information about the council and its e-government initiatives, visit


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