OMB hears from the feds

"Citizen-Centered E-Government: Developing the Action Plan"

The Bush administration's plan to get ideas directly from the federal community for implementing more effective e-government has quickly brought in more than 100 solid e-mail responses from people anxious to be heard at the top.

Mitchell Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, created the e-government task force to identify a set of quick-hitting, crossagency e-government initiatives that will be announced in mid- September with the President's Management Council. On Aug. 9, the task force provided an e-mail address (egov.taskforce@gsa.gov) for anyone in the federal community to submit ideas for those initiatives.

Although OMB officials would not disclose specifics of those e-mail submissions, the task force had received about 150 "substantive" e-mail messages as of Aug. 15, according to an agency official. Those do not include the messages cheering the move to make the address available for such a purpose, said one official close to the process.

The task force is composed of e-government leaders designated by each agency and is led by Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at OMB.

The task force is also interviewing agency executives for ideas, but members wanted to draw on a more diverse group, Forman said. So OMB and the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy created the e-mail address. "If we got thousands of ideas, I think that would be terrific," Forman said. "We definitely have a process to deal with the results."

Widening access to federal decision-makers is critical to fostering changes as far-reaching as those envisioned in the administration's e-government strategy, said Alan Balutis, executive director and chief operating officer of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils.

The grand objectives outlined in the e-government strategy require good ideas, "and only a few ideas are good ideas," Balutis said. "So the key aspectis volume, generating lots of ideas and having some way to sort through them."

The e-mail address is an extension of Forman's push to reach the general federal community. "I want to get to key events where I can hit a large number of the people who are working in the federal government on federal government projects," he said. "Those are the people who are doing the reform initiatives."

The e-mail address will remain open until the end of August. Then a steering group, including members of the President's Management Council, will choose about 10 ideas to be completed within the next 18 to 24 months, Forman said.

At least part of the funding for that work will come through the new e-government fund, for which the administration is seeking $20 million for fiscal 2002. That $20 million has been cut to $5 million by the House, but the final funding level remains to be debated by members of the House and Senate.

Ideas from the federal community are ultimately going to OMB, and one official said that could cause some employees to think twice before firing off an e-mail.

"People realize OMB's position in the hierarchy, and they understand the impact of sending an e-mail without checking with their administrator," the official said. "So [the task force] can put the capability out there, but there is going to be a lot of fear."

OMB isn't the first agency to provide an open invitation for ideas from federal workers that will be read by the most senior administrators, said Tony Trenkle, deputy associate commissioner of the Social Security Administration's Electronic Services.

It is hard to tell whether OMB's invitation will yield meaningful results or if the good ideas will get lost in a sea of public-interest submissions, "but it has the opportunity for the people who are directly impacted by e-government to comment," he said.

"If it's something that seems to be worthwhile, then they can expand it."

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