The Commerce Department has stepped to the fore in embracing the vision
of an electronic, accessible government agency that moves at Internet speed.
But in its efforts to become a digital department by 2002, Commerce's
toughest sell may be getting its own workers to buy into the plan.
The department is committed to investing in change. Its $6 million request
in the fiscal 2001 budget proposal is the latest in a series of attempts
to get funding to rewire its headquarters with high-speed fiber-optic cabling.
Commerce last year also awarded a blanket purchase agreement to unify
and modernize a decade-old crazy quilt of procurement systems. And it wants
workers worldwide to have access to an intranet containing personnel information,
forms and benefits.
The idea is that by making internal processes more efficient, employees
will spend less time chasing paper and more time fulfilling the agency's
Of course, a big part of that mission is serving the public. Commerce
plans to make its World Wide Web site a portal for citizens and Congress
to access forms and information.
The technology to make those plans happen is available. But overcoming
a paper-driven internal culture may be the digital department's biggest
To make the leap, Commerce must invest time and money to train its own
workers in the technology, policies, and ideas behind the shift. If the
public is to be better served by the digital department, its own users must
have confidence that the new way works better than the old. Then the pain
of change can be salved by systems that run smoothly, and workers can focus
on serving end users in the business community. To help smooth the way,
Commerce would do well to build in increments and let workers get comfortable
with prototypes along the way.
Commerce Secretary William Daley, chief information officer Roger Baker,
and Karen Hogan, the digital department program manager, should be applauded
for their ambitious but common-sense plan. Now, they'll need departmentwide
support during the forthcoming "some assembly required" phase.