Conversation with Mark Forman

Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, sat down for an exclusive interview Aug. 7 with Federal Computer Week. The following is an excerpt from that session.

Q: How do you measure success for e-government? A: I don't think that you can look at this from the standpoint of how many Web sites we do or we don't have. I do think that this gets back to some cost-effectiveness measures associated with mission fulfillment.

In the mission performance management initiative, we're pretty focused on moving from measures of input or measures of output that are associated with how many widgets do we produce, how many farmers do we see, to really focus on the policy measure of success, laying a policy objective associated with a program and then figuring out what's the metric, whether it's output or outcome that correlates to that.

Q: What do you, as the leader, have to consider in forming those metrics? A: What kind of governance structure do governments need to become a click-and-mortar? What are the priorities—or how do you help government set the priorities when part of the problem is understanding the barriers to change, part of the problem is understanding the opportunity and part of the problem is building consensus to take advantage of the opportunity and overcome the barriers?

That's what the [e-government] task force and the road map that we're working on are all about.

Q: How will the task force help? A: The process that we're taking with the task force is around two weeks of data collection, identifying the high-payoff initiatives. Then endorsement and really establishment of the priorities by a steering group made up of largely the President's Management Council. And then spending an intensive time identifying process, organization and IT projects that are e-government initiatives and not IT initiatives, but [of which] IT is a major component.

As well as identifying the key barriers to moving forward in each of our four customer groupings: government to citizen or government to individual; government to business; government to government; and then our internal efficiencies and effectiveness.

Q: How will your experience on the Hill help your leadership of e-government? A: I know the different perspectives. I know the perspective of someone sitting on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and I know that from the majority and the minority standpoint. I worked with many people on the appropriations committees, for example, on the tax systems modernization. The reforms that we did to that in 1996 and 1995 at its time was a unique alignment between the Governmental Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

I believe that those relationships have grown since then, and I think you see similar things in the House. I'm hopeful that we can build upon close relationships. I expect the best. I think we're moving in a good framework.

Q: What are the key things for agencies to consider when investing in the technology behind e-government? A: We're seeing a lot of pendulum swinging. One of the interesting swings on the centralization vs. decentralization pendulum [is that] one could say that things are swinging back toward centralization. But if you peel away the skin on that, it's really not centralization, it's more integration.

It's more along the lines of making sure [that] as we look at how people are expending their resources, how they're focusing their initiatives, how they're aligning with the whole management agenda—are they doing things because it's the flavor of the day? And then, of course, by the time they get through the process of putting it in, it's no longer the flavor of the day.

There was a book that came out a couple of years ago...in there they gave an assessment, a listing of the worst practices in trying to apply best practices. The No. 1 worst practice that I remember...is trying to take somebody else's best practice and bring it into your organization. You have to make things fit the context of your organization. And that's something that all too often seems to get missed.

Q: Why do you think e-government will succeed now? A: Fortunately all of the deputy secretaries and most of the PMC members now are in place. Many of these people have been through an e-business transformation over the last couple of years in their companies. A couple of years ago we would have to do training—they came trained, they've been through this before. So it's a lot easier to have the conversations about the barriers, about how you work through resistance to change. And in my area, they're coming in with knowledge to address this issue. To me, it really makes my job so much easier. We wouldn't have had that two years ago because everything was so new.

A lot of it was just training. People were trying to evaluate e-government initiatives the same way they used to evaluate an IT spending request. Or the way they used to evaluate a management report. We know so much more now about leadership, management of change, leveraging technology, aligning technology with business design. I just think that we're further along now than we were two years ago, and we have a lot more people in this senior leadership role who understand that, who have been through it. It's not a lessons-learning experience for them anymore, and that really makes a difference.

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