Setting the standard
- By Diane Frank
- Aug 13, 2001
A battered copy of a 7-month-old book falls open easily to Page 77 to reveal a yellow-highlighted chart of best practices for not becoming an e-business. This is Mark Forman's favorite show-and-tell for the federal executives he is leading into e-government. The chart, from "Evolve!: Succeeding in the Digital Culture of Tomorrow," by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, gets people's attention because it tackles e-commerce from an unusual directionnot as a how-to but a how-not-toyet they immediately grasp the concept.
"I show that to everybody working on the [e-government] task force so that they know," Forman said. "Everybody recognizes it, and a lot of people find it quite humorous because they see depicted some of the past efforts. But you have to go in recognizing the failures and the foibles and the pitfalls. That's what I'm trying to do."
E-government. Government as business. Bringing commercial best practices to government. Leaders have been kicking around such catchphrases for years, based on ideas for improving federal service and performance. But governmentwide progress has been glacial at best.
In June, President Bush named Forman associate director of information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, making him the leader for all IT initiatives that drive federal performance and productivity improvements.
Past and current colleagues agree that Forman has the experience to finally use IT to transform government.
"He's got that combination of government background and private-sector experience that can make this successful," said Jim Flyzik, vice chairman of the CIO Council and chief information officer at the Treasury Department.
But perhaps more important, Forman is excited about being held responsible. "As scary as it may sound, I want to be held accountable for making sure that we're indeed achieving this productivity improvement."
Government accountability is a key element of the president's agenda, and the administration is already devising performance measures for every agency and outlining goals for governmentwide improvement. The success of agencies' e-government initiatives will not only be measured individually (see "Measuring Success"), but will also be judged by their impact on other areas of the administration's agenda, such as workforce and financial management, Forman said.
After earning an economics degree from the Ohio State University, Forman started down the path of improving government performance in the summer of 1980, when he interned for the National Park Service. Officials there put him to work on a study of public access to parks and how the agency's use of its budget helped or hindered its access goals.
He then went on for his master's degree at the University of Chicago, where he focused on operations research from a public policy viewpoint, looking at how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government.
"And that's what I've built my whole career on," Forman said. "I understand how to do cost-effectiveness trade-offs, how to trade off operational efficiency vs. mission effectiveness...and I recognize that a lot of commercial analytic techniquesor really, back then, they were academic analysis toolshad a lot of application to government reform."
Forman's pattern has been to "do some neat things in the private sector for government, and then come into government and do it on a bigger scale."
After graduate school, he spent several years at the General Accounting Office and as a consultant to the Defense Department. When the Cold War ended, Forman got the opportunity to make some changes himself, rather than just making suggestions. He accepted an offer to work with former Sen. William Roth Jr. (R-Del.) and later with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
There, he helped write legislation that agencies still grapple with today, including the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 and the government's principal IT management mandate, the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.
He spent the past three years heading up the e-government business for industry leaders IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp. before being lured back into government to once again apply everything he has learned in the private sector.
"He's just got a great pedigree for doing this," said Paul Brubaker, president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc. and a former Governmental Affairs Committee staff member. "He sees the promise of [e-government], he's probably been frustrated that this has been taking so long, and he saw an opportunity to be able to affect it."
Making It Happen
Forman stands at the head of e-government, serving as a point man to gather ideas from agencies, share practices and principles, and "fight the battles that someone sitting within one of the organizations can't really fight." But he said agencies need their own leaders and advocates to make sure e-government covers the entire government.
Last month, Bush created an e-government task force, chaired by Forman but composed of the CIOs and other top executives considered e-government leaders by their agencies. That task force has already started developing a list of crossagency initiatives that could have the biggest impact on e-government. From that list, the President's Management Council will choose the top ones and work on them immediately. The task force's second mission is to identify barriers to developing crossagency initiativesthe biggest one probably being getting the right people in place to lead the e-government effort (see "Constructing e-gov leaders").
The people who are already in place are excited to see someone at the White House who is "dedicated to e-government," Flyzik said.
Currently without a dedicated support staffalthough he does have help from OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory AffairsForman already relies on the CIO Council, the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Procurement Executives Council. The fact that Forman is known to many people in government and in the contracting community makes it easy for the councils to work with him, Flyzik said. "He's got a group that's willing and able to move out on a lot of these agenda items."
But leaders are only part of the equation. For e-government initiatives to be effective, ideas and strategies must reach the frontline employees, Forman said. OMB has been partnering with the Office of Personnel Management on a series of sessions to train employees to integrate performance into budget decisions, especially for IT programs.
"The attendance and participation has been terrific," Forman said. "This year, we had probably over 400 people go through these two training sessions from all fieldseverything from programs to procurement to IT to the budget and CFO communities at agencies. They came out of the areas at agencies that you would like to see be interested."
Forman plans to keep in touch with the people who attended the sessions, and he freely passes out his e-mail address ([email protected]) and phone number to anyone who might want to reach him.
"Anybody has access, from a GS-7, GS-5 programmer that sees something being done wrong to a deputy secretary who's mad that I said something," he said.
Such an open-door policy is not new, Brubaker said. While working on Capitol Hill, Forman often fielded questions at 11:30 p.m. from citizens concerned about the committee's legislation. "The guy is tireless. He's willing to put in whatever hours it takes."
The key will be enabling the e-government believers to make a difference by fostering an environment in which they can, Forman said. "We are focusing on the deputy secretaries and agency heads on down, using the President's Management Council."
In the end, Forman believes e-government will succeed because of the consistent focus by the Bush administration.
"The last administration focused on a very broad, thin management agenda," he said. "We're focused on five major initiatives and making sure that works even in the bowels of the bureaucracy. And I think it makes it easier to achieve some of the changes and to get more people to think about it, because the initiatives are fewer but they're much more focused."
The biggest part of the administration's focus is creating the first governmentwide e-government position and naming Forman to fill the post, Brubaker said.
"I'm convinced he's going to be successful because of the backing from the White House, the fact that he has a clear agenda and just what he brings to the position. He brings the enthusiasm of a young kid into the game."