E-Gov Act: Symbolic or practical?

The major impact of the E-Government Act of 2002 has not yet been felt, most observers agree.

"The primary impact has been psychological," said Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International LLC and former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget. "At this point, this stuff is here to stay; it's not just a passing fad. [The act] sends a signal that there is a focus that's going to be around for awhile."

This signal, however, is still "like preaching to the choir," McConnell said — it is only reaching the managers and technologists who saw the need for the e-government transformation. The impact has yet to reach beyond chief information officers to chief financial officers or programmatic managers.

"We won't see the full impact for another five years," he said.

The act authorized $345 million during four years for e-government programs. But e-government initiatives have yet to see that money. For fiscal 2004, congressional conferees slashed a central e-government fund to $3 million, down $42 million from the administration's request. The fund received $5 million the previous two years. This signals that e-government has yet to be established as a priority and that the act lacks the impetus for action, said Roger Baker, former Commerce Department CIO.

"There are a lot of good things in the E-Gov Act and [in] putting real money behind the transformation," he said. "But when you get down to $3 million, it's hard to convince people they need to do something."

Dave McClure, vice president of e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government, agrees it's too soon to gauge the act's success. Although the legislation was signed last December, the provisions didn't take effect until spring. Much of the work is just getting started. The legislation did, however, act as a driver to prompt action, he said.

"The impact has been to keep a steady focus on the e-government strategy of the federal government," McClure said. "It has given OMB and the new office of e-government some opportunity to use legislative leverage to keep people focused on it."

Agencies are expected to submit their first e-government reports to OMB by Dec. 15 to demonstrate their progress in implementing aspects of the act. Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government, information and technology policy, said the act is a step forward in how agencies are using IT to transform their business processes.

"Regardless of deadlines and funding considerations, the act has focused agency attention to implement new technology, to improve performance and better meet customer needs," Evans said. "The act also reinforces key principles needed for successful organizations: emphasizing market-based, customer-focused, collaborative solutions."

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