GITS Board to take over predecessor's activities

The newly created Government Information Technology Services Board would continue the work of its predecessor, the GITS Working Group, as a facilitator of IT programs that aim to make government more efficient and accessible to the public, according to a recent status report issued by the working group.

The group, chartered in 1993 to help agencies carry out the IT-related recommendations of the National Performance Review, lists among its accomplishments a host of initiatives it has identified, funded, coordinated or publicized. GITS-backed programs include building interagency databases, promoting the use of IT for delivering government benefits and convening the Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel to explore the integration of federal, state and local systems.

In general, the systems development or policy analysis required to carry out these proj-ects has been done by one or more "champion" agencies, and most programs are ongoing.

Sources who have followed GITS Working Group activities said its greatest achievement has been raising the profile of interagency and intergovernmental technology issues within the government rather than completing any specific project.

But they also said GITSB will have to broaden its reach if its members want to see their vision of an integrated government come to life.

"Some people are impatient with the progress of what GITS has taken on," said Larry Koskinen, a vice president with the nonpartisan Council on Excellence in Government and a former member of the NPR staff. "They are taking on issues that are much bigger than technology."

"Its strength has been its ability to promote coordination across agencies and [help them avoid] doing the same thing multiple times," said Bruce McConnell, the chief of information policy with the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and a GITS member. New IT management policies "give agencies responsibility for improving their programs," he said.

Koskinen said GITS has uncovered "boundaries" - some cultural and some operational - between agencies and the private sector that inhibit the use of technology for delivering services or exchanging information.

One challenge for the new GITSB, he said, is showing agencies, through demonstration projects and budgeting tools, how to assess the benefits of collaboration so they will agree to devote resources to interagency programs.

Gary Bass, the executive director of OMB Watch, a government watchdog group, said GITS has played a "helpful role" in teaching agencies how IT can be used to provide information to the public.

"I do think you still have pockets within the government that are in the equivalent of the dinosaur age," he said.

Bass would like to see GITSB more aggressively pursue issues such as enabling the public to search for government information across agencies in a standard way.

But he also said the board is not a "magic bullet" for making the government more user-friendly.

"The agencies are not monolithic in structure, so no single entity like a GITS will resolve this problem," he said.

But John Cavallini, a GITS Working Group member who heads the Energy Department's scientific computing program, said few other interagency groups have accomplished as much as GITS has.

"GITS has made significant progress on all of the NPR recommendations and in other areas as well," he said, even though many of its achievements may not be "spectacular or highly visible."

McConnell said that by giving GITS formal status, the Clinton administration "contemplates an even more active, more successful, broader program" without creating "another bureaucracy with a lot of formal approvals and sign-offs."

With limited funds and no official organizational clout, the GITS Working Group has established its influence mainly through its membership of some top-level federal IT executives and policy-makers.

James Flyzik, the chairman of the working group, frequently says its members - civil servants who are in positions to see new programs through over the long term - are its primary assets.

GITSB also will not have the power to take action on its own, but its advocates hope its formal status as adviser to the newly established chief information officers and to the Office of Management and Budget will provide powerful channels through which its ideas can be carried out.

Appointments to GITSB are expected in August. The members will elect their own chairman.

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