Little angst over missed deadline

Federal information technology workers are all too familiar with missed deadlines. So it came as no surprise this month that agencies missed the Jan. 1 deadline for all government checks to be delivered via electronic funds transfer (EFT). But what is extraordinary is the casual attitude about an initiative that is key to improving the way the government operates.

The Federal Management Service, the government's primary check writer, is pleased that it is now delivering 63 percent of its approximately 1 billion government payments electronically - an amount well short of the 100 percent goal required in a 1996 law. Even one of the authors of the law, as well as a current congressman who has the duty of keeping watch on how agencies manage IT programs, views FMS' effort as commendable. These attitudes only give more weight to the old saw, "Good enough for government work."

We realize the government is facing an uphill battle. The EFT program requires buy-in from people in and out of government. One big obstacle to EFT has been banks' reluctance to provide federal vendors remittance data on EFT payments.

Now FMS says it plans to have 75 percent of federal payments made via EFT by the end of fiscal 2000. A better approach to EFT may be taken from the Defense Department's EFT effort, which calls for 90 percent of vendor payments to be made via EFT within two years. For sure, 100 percent may be an unattainable goal, but FMS' 75 percent effort strikes us as modest.

The EFT initiative is not insignificant; it is a key program for the federal government to institute electronic commerce and will provide savings of $100 million a year.

This is a perfect opportunity for the government to act like a business, market its program to the reluctant and make its numbers.

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