Two transforming studies

"May you live in interesting times" is often said as a curse. But sometimes,

"interesting times" present opportunities as well as challenges. This particular

moment appears to be one of those.

As the work of government officials (executive and legislative), public-interest

groups, academics and the business community begins to bear fruit, serious

consideration is being given to what "transformed" government in the Digital

Age should entail.

Examples of this can be found in the e-government initiative of Sens.

Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), in the discussions

of whether there is a need for a governmentwide chief information officer,

in the discussions about FirstGov, and in two reports, one just released

and one under way.

The first, from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee's

Panel on Transforming Government, is most timely. Some key findings of the

report come as no surprise: Major technological barriers prevent citizens

from easily accessing government information resources vital to their well-being;

government information is often unavailable, inadequate, out-of-date and

needlessly complicated; budget planning processes make it difficult to carry

out effective cross-agency coordination and execution and the long-term

research efforts that many of the goals require; and stovepiping of congressional

and executive review processes results in the stovepiping of plans and programs.

The ability to work across agencies is critical to any possibility of

a transformed government. The panel notes what some in the public-interest

community have argued for years — information in the government's many databases

is difficult to find and interpret.

To address the problem, the panel's recommendations include research

on data integration — itself a multilevel problem — and on scalable information

infrastructure. Recognizing FirstGov as a "near-term effort built with currently

available technologies," the panel also urges efforts focused on "government-specific

capabilities," such as "transaction support, metadata creation and comprehensive

searchable catalogs of information and services."

The second report, due out later this fall, results from a study requested

by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The request

includes looking at "modernizing organization structures and functions to

reflect greater emphasis on information planning, management and control

capabilities and the need to consolidate, streamline and simplify missions

and functions."

The work on this study is being undertaken under the auspices of the National

Commission on Libraries and Information Science.

The Transforming Government report's findings and recommendations should

provide fruit for the NCLIS study to explore what needs to be done to strengthen

access to federal government information over its entire life cycle and

"other key components of the overall federal information dissemination infrastructure."

—McDermott is an information policy analyst with OMB Watch, a government

watchdog group in Washington, D.C.

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