E-gov challenge: Change thinking

The President's Management Agenda

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The bulk of the work in achieving the Bush administration's e-government vision is going to be in changing how people in agencies, Congress and the general public think about the role of information technology in government services, officials said Sept. 6.

The administration sees e-government as a way to simplify and unify the way citizens, businesses and other government entities interact with federal agencies. And a newly formed e-government task force soon will choose the first set of initiatives to start this work.

But this means agencies need to move past the stovepiped agency- and program-specific systems to present services from the government as a whole, said Mark Forman, the task force leader and associate director of information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

"We at least have to make it appear to our customers that we are one unified government," Forman said at the Interagency Resources Management Conference in Hershey, Pa.

Because citizens really do not care which part of government provides the service they need, key factors will be integrating program management within agencies and moving beyond standard data-exchanging partnerships among federal, state and local agencies to real relationships, he said.

To do this, managers in information technology, program, financial management and procurement offices must become comfortable enough to make those changes together, said Craig Luigart, chief information officer at the Education Department.

"The challenge of unifying and simplifying...really is a cultural issue, not a technical one," he said.

Part of the cultural change is also adjusting how employees think about processes, especially the budget development process, said Dave McClure, director of IT management issues at the General Accounting Office. With budget decisions being made 18 to 24 months before a program receives its funding, managers need to find ways to take into account the inevitable changes in priorities, conditions and needs when attempting to improve that program's performance, he said.

In the end, "I don't think we in OMB can tell you how to do this," Forman said. But agencies will have no choice except to start addressing these harder issues because they can no longer hide behind the excuse that the technology can't do it, he said.

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