Forman: 'Fad buying' must stop

Federal agencies are spending too much money on information technology, the new federal IT chief said Wednesday.

Together, federal agencies spend about $44 billion a year on computer systems, software, service contracts and other information technology. "Forty-four billion dollars is too much," said Mark Forman, the associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

It was Forman's third day on the job. He began working June 25 as the Bush administration's senior official overseeing agencies' use of IT.

Forman said agencies are wasting money on "fad portals," multiple search engines and efforts to develop "government-unique" versions of XML for their Web sites.

He said agencies are busy building "islands of automation" that both duplicate one another and remain separate from each other. As the administration's IT policy skipper, Forman said his plan is to "unify and simplify" agency endeavors.

Portals and search engines are a good example of how agencies waste money through duplication, he said. Although the federal government operates "a mondo search engine" at its FirstGov portal, Forman said, numerous agencies are setting up their own portals with their own search engines. "How many do we need? Does every bureaucracy need its own?" he asked.

Such "fad buying" must stop, Forman said in remarks at an electronic government conference on Capitol Hill. "Technology is not a replacement for good management," he said.

Although he wants to cut IT spending, Forman said electronic government can still improve. "It's not sufficient to make it easier to collect someone's money," he said, noting that the first capabilities agencies and governments usually put online are those that make it easier for individuals to pay taxes and fees.

E-government also should be used to "reduce the burden on business," he said. By reducing paperwork for businesses and speeding transactions, e-government can stimulate economic growth, Forman said.

In his new job, Forman will oversee a $100 million fund intended to encourage e-government initiatives that improve the way agencies work together. Forman is a former staff member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee who specialized in information technology issues and helped draft key e-government legislation, including the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 and the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996.

He worked for eight months as a vice president of Unisys Corp. before joining OMB.

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