Putting government on a high-tech diet

President Clinton plans to rely on information technology to help manage a government that thinks smarter and works harder on a leaner funding diet in fiscal 1998. But he and top agency officials want to ensure that agencies think equally smart and work hard for the billions in IT dollars they plan to spend in the next fiscal year.

Previous administrations have viewed technology as a silver bullet able to resolve myriad problems. But this administration takes a more realistic approach to the applications of IT.

The budget emphasizes using technology to improve the performance of federal agencies reflecting the Government Performance and Results Act and the Clinger-Cohen Act which set the framework for how the government is to be managed. For agencies that means reducing overhead by re-engineering operations before automating buying commercially available products eliminating redundant systems sharing data making payments electronically and contracting out services that the private sector can provide less expensively. At the same time the administration would invest in systems designed to make it easier for citizens and vendors to do business with the government a major theme of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review.

The entire list represents more than $4 billion in proposed IT spending that the Office of Management and Budget plans to monitor most closely. But where in the past systems singled out by OMB tended to be the largest ones or those that were in the most trouble this year several projects named top priorities are small systems that are of "critical importance to the function of an agency " said John Koskinen OMB's deputy director for management.

Clinton's 1998 budget also takes some innovative and some observers say much-needed approaches to funding major IT programs in the civil sector by providing full multiyear funding. This process called "Budgeting for Capital Asset Acquisitions " asks Congress in advance for the financing needed to completely fund major "core/priority mission functions" of federal government systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stand to reap the most benefits from this new funding approach.

Bob Dornan senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. finds this a much-needed approach. "The commercial world would not try to fund multiyear projects on a year-to-year basis " he said. "It's time to make commitments and live with them.

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