How to measure success

Bush administration officials see two problems with the flagship e-government initiatives. They acknowledge that many of the individual projects have not met their defined goals, but they also question whether they need to devise more effective measurements of the projects'

success.

A perfect example of the problem is the e-Rulemaking initiative, said Kim Nelson, chief information officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, the lead agency on the initiative.

Officials intend e-Rulemaking to give the public more input as agencies propose new regulations. But counting the number of rules submitted via the Web instead of by e-mail or paper does not tell the whole story, Nelson said, testifying with other

e-government leaders last week before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee. Officials need to know if the regulatory process is more transparent to citizens and if agencies are receiving more relevant and informed comments, she said.

"What I think we need to do is re-evaluate what success means," Nelson said.

General Accounting Office officials, meanwhile, are concerned about the progress of the initiatives.

Of the 25 initiatives, GAO officials found that only two — Grants.gov and the Internal Revenue Service's Free File — have met all of the objectives that agencies and the Office of Management and Budget outlined in May 2002. Five others have achieved the majority of their objectives, but the other 18 initiatives have only partially met their objectives.

According to a recent GAO study, fewer than half of the 91 original objectives for cross-agency e-government initiatives have been fully met.

"Given that OMB's stated criteria in choosing these initiatives included their likelihood of deployment in 18 to 24 months, the substantial number of objectives that are still unmet or only partially met indicates that making progress on these initiatives is more challenging than OMB may have originally anticipated," said

Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at GAO.

However, leaders of the e-government initiatives said that, at this point, they are further along than they thought they would be.

"I am shocked at how much progress we have made," Nelson said.

A number of the initiatives are the first to attempt to deliver consolidated services. "Many people here are doing this without a blueprint; there are no other footsteps to follow," she said.

Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee, agreed that the current situation is encouraging. At the same time, agencies must delve deeper into what is going on in each of the initiatives, he said.

For example, officials need to know the percentage of people camping at Yellowstone National Park who reserved spots online instead of by phone or in person.

"That's what we're really getting at, is how effective is e-government for the people?" Putnam asked.

The goal for the e-government initiatives and the Bush administration's

E-Government Strategy has always been to improve agencies' performance and service, but so far the focus largely has been on getting the technology running, said Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and information technology at OMB.

As initiatives such as e-Rulemaking and USAJobs move ahead, officials need to look to different measurements to determine if they are effective, Evans said.

"We've been very focused on the technical deployments and now we want to be focused on the results," she said.

Much like the e-Rulemaking Web portal, USAJobs faces a similar situation. Studies by the initiative's program office at the Office of Personnel Management show that there is much less frustration with the search for federal jobs using the site and a clearer understanding of the online application process, said Norman Enger, program director of e-government at OPM. The agency expects to receive 700,000

résumés during the next year based on the monthly averages since the portal went live in August 2003. That is a dramatic increase compared to the number of submissions prior to the portal's existence, Enger said.

The initiative team wants to see if those applicants are more qualified for the jobs they apply for and if agencies are able to fill vacancies more quickly, he said.

Officials will not be able to follow through on a time-to-fill measurement right away, Enger said. It will require that OPM officials have access to agencies' back-end application assessment and review systems, and that is never an easy thing to negotiate culturally or technically, he said.

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