'E-Commerce Department'

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

mission.

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

hurdle.

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.

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