Forman's legacy

Arguably, those who try ambitious government reforms could be described in one of two ways: naive or a Pollyanna.

The history of reforming government is littered with failed attempts. We have heard it so many times before: "Just wait out this administration and then we can go back to the way we worked before."

That's what makes Mark Forman's effort to reform the way government manages and buys information technology such an exception. From the moment he accepted the job — the de facto federal chief information officer position — Forman has been able to push officials to rethink how they purchase and develop IT systems. He shook up the government and industry when he posed a provocative question: Is the $45 billion the federal government spends on IT annually too much? The question wasn't a rhetorical one.

Relying on his affable, yet direct, management style, Forman cajoled IT managers to reach across agency boundaries to share resources and systems. Of course, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were the primary causes for the newfound cooperation.

But Forman's legacy — e-government, linking business processes and security to budgets, a focus on missions, and training better program managers — is still undetermined. It is unclear, for example, how successful his two-dozen or so e-government initiatives will be, or if they will languish.

In addition, a conspicuous failure in Forman's two-year tenure was his inability to convince Congress that his program was worth the investment. Of the $100 million OMB asked Congress for e-government over three years, he was able to get only $5 million in both fiscal 2002 and 2003, and possibly only $1 million for fiscal 2004. Close colleagues said the funding more than disappointed him.

Still, if measured by the buzz he created at agencies and in industry, Forman pushed a reform effort further than most. He helped develop OMB's budget muscles to a point that agencies were taking notice. Whether those muscles will atrophy or be flexed now that he has left is up to his successor.

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