Plans across the waters

U.S. learns from U.K. e-gov experience

UK Office of the e-Envoy

The United Kingdom may have a smaller population base and a centrally funded office, but U.S. agencies can still learn lessons about e-government from their neighbor across the Atlantic, according to e-government experts.

"We're all going through the same things at different levels," said Mayi Canales, co-chairwoman of the federal CIO Council's E-government Committee.

Many U.K. e-government lessons mirror U.S. agency experiences, starting with the Bush administration's insistence that any technology reforms be part of a larger effort to change the way government provides services.

Some observers have focused on the funding issue. White House officials have proposed an e-government fund that would total $100 million over the next three years, while the United Kingdom will spend about $1.5 billion.

But funding differences are not the issue, according to Ann Steward, director of e-government in the United Kingdom's Office of the e-Envoy. "It could have been any number in terms of, if you give us more, we'll do more."

The important thing, Steward said, is making sure that agencies and departments develop solid business plans with their share of the money. Those plans must be part of the larger effort to change how government interacts with its citizens.

"Our mantra is very much about the re-engineering and not just the "e' attachments," she said.

The Bush administration is focusing on a similar theme, even as it has created an associate director of information technology and e-government position at the Office of Management and Budget. During his first month in that position, Mark Forman has spoken at multiple public and private meetings about the need to use e-government as a critical element in a management reform agenda.

Many have championed this idea in the past, but having a central IT leader the way other nations do could make a big difference, said Alan Balutis, executive director and chief operating officer of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils.

Placing Forman in charge of all e-government efforts while working within the larger structure of OMB ensures that all the issues are considered as a package, Balutis said. "He's got a real sense for how to do this, where to focus his attention," he said.

Even before Forman's appointment, the CIO Council looked at other countries' e-government processes, Canales said. "We've been able to learn a great deal in how other countries have restructured their processes prior to automating, going to e-government," she said.

At ground level, e-government proj.ects must be broken down into "chewable chunks modules that you are able to actually digest," Steward said.

Instead of a grand, long-term project unveiled with fanfare, initiatives should have shorter goals that build toward a larger result. That demonstrates success to leaders and provides citizens with a usable product, Steward said. It also makes room for feedback and needed adjustments.

The U.K. Online Web portal (www.ukonline. gov.uk) went through such a process. Steward's staff spent months meeting with citizen groups and agency representatives to develop a beta version, which went online last December. The office staff then spent nearly three months gathering comments from citizens, businesses and government agencies, and in February, a refined version went live with a prominent "editor's update" section where users can find out how the site is changing and provide feedback.

Many similar initiatives are under way in the United States, including the federal FirstGov portal's recent addition of links to states' Web sites. But the difference in size and complexity of the U.S. system makes any government reform effort more complex.

"This engine is much larger than any of the other engines out there," said Don Arnold, national vice chairman of the Industry Advisory Council.

MORE INFO

E-gov advice from the U.K.

Ann Steward, head of e-government efforts for the United Kingdom, has

these suggestions for a smoother U.S. transition to e-government:

* Make sure e-government reform is part of general government reform.

* Work closely with other agencies to create an agenda that reflects

collective needs, not just the needs of a particular office.

* Establish common project management practices to ensure that project goals

are followed from development through deployment.

* Break projects down into smaller modules with break points at which

progress can be evaluated and the project adjusted if necessary.

* Get input from senior agency officials and members of Congress, and

make sure they understand what is happening and why.

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