Constructing e-gov leaders

The new e-government leaders—the chief information officers of the future — must be people who understand the support role information technology plays in an electronic government, according to Mark Forman, the Bush administration's IT chief.

Last month, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. told a group of government and industry management executives, "I'm not sure we have cutting-edge leadership" in the federal IT arena. At the time, Daniels said the government must rely much more on the private sector for the "best the nation has to offer."

The challenge for Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government, is to help agencies pick the right people with the right ideas—from business or government—to fill the many vacant CIO positions.

In the past, IT investments have been considered administrative overhead costs. Only recently have CIOs and other leaders realized that technology must be a key element in agencies because it can transform government, Forman said.

Forman's ideal e-government leaders would:

n Understand the business of government. These leaders would have to grasp the broad, policy-setting mission at the Treasury Department, for example, and the product-oriented missions of its agencies, such as the Bureau of Engraving and the U.S. Mint. The similarities and differences in those missions, Forman said, would then drive the IT goods and services that the department would use.

n Effectively manage resources. Leaders will have to align business practices with available funding and personnel to get the most efficiency from the technology. Fad buying and investments—that is, setting up contracts or programs just because they are popular—must give way to fitting new technologies into the agency mission and getting the most out of each dollar and person.

n Possess management skills. An effective leader would not only have an understanding of government, but would be able to communicate that understanding in different ways to employees at different levels. For example, employees on the front lines of the programs need a different view from the administrators and agency heads.

"It's a challenge, finding somebody that understands all of those elements," Forman said. "But if we're going to get world-class people, it's more to get people that understand those elements than to say we're only going to look at industry or we're only going to look at government.

"It's understanding the balance, understanding how to leverage the technology, understanding how to instigate change, how to motivate action up and down the organization."

The good news, he said, is that there are already federal employees who have been waiting to make changes, and they will play a big role in e-government. It helps that the people who were brought into government in the last years of the Clinton White House and by the current administration have been through the "e-business transformation" in the private sector.

"They came trained," Forman said.

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