Digital Commerce

In what could serve as a model across government, Commerce Department Secretary William Daley last week announced that he plans to move Commerce from a "paper-based bureaucracy" to an all-digital department by 2002.

"I want to build a department that conducts personnel actions, procurement and as much internal business as feasible on a secure intranet," Daley told an audience attending the Electronic Government conference in Washington, D.C.

"I am setting a goal: By 2002, the Commerce Department will be truly an E-Commerce Department."

Daley said he asked Roger Baker, Commerce's chief information officer, and Karen Hogan, the director of the "Digital Department" office that will guide the transition, to report to him within 45 days with an "aggressive" plan that will span the next three years.

The plan likely will start with rewiring the Commerce's headquarters and building a secure intranet, Baker said. "We will look at all internal processes, particularly things that are forms-based, and figure out how to best turn those [into] electronic processes," he said. Examined procedures will include paper-based processes that track workers' time and attendance, travel applications and procurement systems, Baker said. In the procurement area, the department earlier this year awarded CACI Inc. a blanket purchase agreement to replace outdated and disjointed department procurement systems with a single system. Some of Commerce's procurement systems are more than 10 years old, and each serves only a portion of the department's acquisition process. This contract will be part of the overall plan to digitize Commerce, Baker said.

"We are supportive of this," Baker said. "It adds a lot to have the secretary make a major policy speech to do this. It [creates] a big snowplow to take roadblocks out of your way."

Commerce has made some progress in providing digital communications with the public, Daley said. Last week the department rolled out an online application form that enables businesses to sign up for export licenses as an alternative to paper license submissions.

However, the department is behind in using information technology internally to transform paper-based processes into electronic applications, Daley said. "I can go to the Commerce [World Wide] Web page and pull down all kinds of files on trade with China," he said. "But when I returned from a recent mission to China, I wasn't able to file travel forms online."

Daley added that he has tried for five years to have Congress appropriate $5 million to rewire the Commerce building.

The department will face many challenges in achieving its goal, Daley said, including budget restraints and the training required to teach people how to use new technologies. However, changing the department's culture may be the biggest obstacle. "We need to change more than forms," Daley said. "This town may be the hardest place in the world to change culture, but there's no doubt we have to try."

For Commerce, which has about 47,000 employees, making the move to a completely digital department is a huge undertaking, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. "The larger the organ-ization is, the more difficult it is to do," he said. "I'm not aware of any other department the size of Commerce doing this."

Although the technology is available to make it happen, the Defense Department's attempt to move to an entirely paperless contracting environment illustrates how difficult making the change can be, Mather said. "The change agent is technology. The tough part is the new processes and the new procedures," he said. "Everything that could impact an organization is impacted by one of these programs. Not only are there technological challenges, but there is resistance to change."

Jim Flyzik, vice chairman of the Government Information Technology Services Board and CIO at the Treasury Department, said many of the IT applications that agencies are installing will help create fully digitized organ-izations.

"I believe the concept of an information technology architecture, a [public-key] infrastructure to support it [and] all of those things that support privacy and security are key components that need to be put in place to make it happen," he said. "I applaud the [Commerce] secretary for stepping out and taking a leadership role."

It is important for Commerce to look to other agencies for solutions that may already exist, said Michael Mestrovich, president of Unlimited New Dimensions LLC and a former DOD electronic commerce executive.

"If someone already has a system up and running, [Commerce] should borrow it or ride on top of it," he said. "Rather than start from [scratch], Commerce should leverage what someone else has."

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