Death to Stovepipes and Silos

The metaphor of stovepipes and silos in government has been around for a long time. It refers to functional processes - and computer applications that automate them - that were designed with minimal awareness of the need to co-exist with other processes and applications. Proliferation of these monuments to isolationism brought us to the current environment in which legacy stovepipe systems have severely limited our ability to provide the seamless government being demanded by Americans. That's the bad news. The good news is that changes are in the wind.

A few key leaders are beginning to grasp the potential for cooperating among and across levels of government - not only vertically but also horizontally among agencies, states and local governments. The term being used to describe this kind of multidimensional integration is "intergovernmental." The term is often used interchangeably with "state and local," but when applied properly it extends not only to state and local government but also to tribal, federal and international governments.

Fueled by the information technology revolution, more familiar descriptions of intergovernmental cooperation - such as interagency, international and interstate - are also beginning to experience a revival of interest. And other new terms are being originated daily, such as ad hoc government, regional government, seamless government and virtual government.

The new terms have a common denominator: They imply integration that cuts across levels of government and is enabled by new management disciplines such as process re-engineering as well as new technologies such as the Internet, intranets, data warehousing and World Wide Web technologies. The changes brought about by these initiatives are being accelerated by federal budget reductions to balance the budget, by devolution of power and authority to levels of government closer to the citizen and by pressure from taxpayers to downsize all government organizations.

A few years ago, an informal team of leaders from government and industry met and created an ad hoc organization called Interchange-94 to identify promising models of the intergovernmental applications of IT. Subsequently, Jim Flyzik, chairman of the Government Information Technology Services Working Group, chartered the Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel as an affiliate of GITS and assigned Sam Ewell of the Treasury Department to be its first chairman. Ewell recruited leaders from the state and local government sectors and created a three-way power-sharing arrangement. Leadership of the IEP has now been assumed by Phil Smith, director of state/federal relations for Iowa; Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc., representing local governments; and Frank McDonough, the General Services Administration's deputy associate administrator for intergovernmental solutions.

Any-Time Government

In addition to his role as new federal co-chairman of the IEP, McDonough is the elected chairman of the International Council for Information Technology in Government Administration, the convening body for sharing IT lessons learned across international boundaries. He recently presided over an international meeting in Budapest, Hungary, and returned with knowledge of innovative initiatives undertaken by other countries that could help the United States advance its approach to government "any time, anywhere."

McDonough has been asked by Neil Stillman, president of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils, to lead a strategic review of FGIPC and to assume leadership of a newly created Intergovernmental Advisory Board, which is expected to become a counterpart to the highly effective Industry Advisory Council, which has been operating since 1990.

By placing so much responsibility for coordinating the rise of intergovernmental enterprise in the hands of one person, wise heads have recognized the need to jump-start the intergovernmental community while minimizing the potential for turf wars that frequently accompany attempts to fill a power vacuum. If McDonough is successful, he could become Mr. Intergovernment, at least for a while. Stay tuned for results flowing out of these initiatives.

Bob Greeves is a principal of the Council for Excellence in Government and a consultant on intergovernmental technology matters. He can be reached via e-mail at greeves@tmn.com.

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