Forman makes case for reforms

OMB

The Bush administration's new information technology chief said last week that the White House will push agencies to align e-government initiatives with management reforms and to support those programs with a business case.

Mark Forman, in an address July 12 at the E-Gov 2001 conference in Washington, D.C., said agencies have developed some excellent electronic initiatives, but he wants those separate efforts expanded across government.

"We will not be a total virtual government; we may never be one," Forman said. "It's not anymore about the computers. It's not about the software. It's about measuring performance."

Boosting the $45 billion now spent each year on federal IT is not the way to measure better results from IT investments, according to Forman, who has been on the job for three weeks as associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

Instead, OMB—reaffirming a stance the Bush administration has taken since spring—will push agencies to make sure e-government initiatives don't part paths with other management reforms, Forman said. It's those kinds of actions that will garner OMB support, he added.

During the next 18 to 24 months, OMB will encourage agencies to combine their resources to provide similar—and connected—services to the public in distinct lines of business, Forman said. As part of that process, OMB intends to encourage agencies to adopt best practices and use knowledge management techniques to spread each agency's expertise across government.

Agencies must use e-government "as a critical element in a five-part management reform agenda," Forman said. OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. plans to release President Bush's management agenda later this summer. It will include initiatives in areas as diverse as workforce planning and financial management.

Forman arrived at OMB after leading Unisys Corp.'s e-business efforts; he also worked in similar areas for IBM Corp. Forman said agencies could benefit from industry's "collect once and use many" philosophy, which reduces the burden on citizens, businesses and government.

"Our vision is an order-of-magnitude improvement in the federal government's value to the citizen," he said.

Forman's speech received industry applause. "What we've needed is a vision, a catalyst and a leader with a plan," said Alan Balutis, former deputy chief information officer at the Commerce Department and now executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils and the Industry Advisory Council. Forman seems to fill that void, he said.

Forman said he wants to make sure that agencies tie technology into mission goals by developing business cases for every new system. That's not happening often enough now.

Agency budget items lacking that tie-in will not continue in fiscal 2003, Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of OMB, told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last week. "Our plan is to discontinue IT investments that are not relevant to agency or multiagency missions, or are behind schedule, over budget or not delivering intended benefits or efficiencies," he said.

IT managers are not the only ones affected by OMB's mandate. Department secretaries will have to take responsibility for IT decisions that now affect everything they oversee, said Jerry Mechling, director of the program on strategic computing and telecommunications in the public sector at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

That philosophy was illustrated last week when White House officials directed each agency to designate a chief operating officer who will report directly to the agency head. The COOs will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating management reforms, including integrating performance and budgeting, improving financial management and advancing e-government.

OMB's emphasis on performance will make it harder for agency managers to justify their budget requests, said Carl DeMaio, an analyst for the Reason Public Policy Institute. Showing that a program was completed on time and within budget may no longer be enough.

Congress also will pay close attention to how agencies align e-government efforts with their daily activities, and not just when dealing with appropriations committees, said Na.than.iel Wienecke, a staff member on the House Government Reform Committee. "We intend to use our legislative and oversight authority to encourage agencies to modernize their business processes."

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