Report shows how to creatively fund info tech projects

The Intergovernmental Advisory Board (IAB) of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils last week issued a report designed to help federal, state and local government agencies develop innovative ways to fund information technology projects.

The board, which consists of nine members representing all three levels of government who provide advice and counsel to FGIPC on emerging IT intergovernmental issues, identified seven broad approaches for funding IT initiatives. These approaches include establishing new partnerships with other government organizations or with universities; charging fees to industry for use of federal data or services; or selling used equipment or seized assets.

"To date, restrictions on funding approaches have impeded federal, state and local governments from successfully implementing intergovernmental information systems and have restricted working collaboratively with other governments," according to the report, "Innovative Approaches for Information Technology Initiatives: Federal, State and Local Government Experiences." "As budgets continue to shrink and responsibilities are devolved to lower levels of government, funding strategies have assumed utmost importance, particularly cross-government funding strategies."

The report concludes that IT projects "not dependent on appropriated funds will continue to challenge government IT officials," and officials need to create innovative ways to fund the projects.

FGIPC president Neil Stillman, deputy assistant secretary for information resources management at the Department of Health and Human Services, described the board's document as a "landmark report."

"Some of the methodologies [described in the report] I would have never thought of," Stillman said. "I think we might try some of them."

IAB chairman Frank McDonough, deputy associate administrator at the General Services Administration's Office of Intergovernmental Solutions, said the board began work on the report about seven months ago after a series of meetings that were spent "brainstorming" about issues that are most important to IT managers at all levels of government. Board members selected the issue of innovative funding as the one most worthy of immediate research, McDonough said. "We knew that innovative funding was going on, but this information had never been pulled together in one place," he said.

McDonough said state and local governments have been more creative in adopting innovative funding approaches than their counterparts in the federal government. For example, he said West Virginia recently added a surcharge to all cellular phone calls that will be used to fund the state's Year 2000 conversion program.

"In some cases, state and local governments put up no money," McDonough added. "When a system meets certain performance levels, the vendor gets paid.... The things that are going on are unbelievable."

Stillman noted that some of the funding methods employed at the state and local level might not translate to the federal level. "Things that may work in a local government may be harder to work in the federal government," he said. "But it's something that bears examination."

McDonough agreed that adopting approaches in which the federal government would share revenue and risks would require policy changes from the Office of Management and Budget or from Congress.

Board member Carolyn Purcell, chief information officer for Texas, said bureaucratic roadblocks affect states as well. "Sometimes we really don't push the envelope on what we are able to do," she said. "People have different jurisdictional inhibitors.... But that doesn't mean there isn't some slight variation on an idea that can work."

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