Making e-gov work

The Association for Federal Information Resources Management and Federal Computer Week sponsored a roundtable discussion to discuss obstacles to e-government, how e-government should operate in five years and what steps are needed to remove barriers. Thirteen federal information technology leaders gathered at the City Club of Washington, D.C., to discuss those issues. A portion of the discussion is outlined here.

Cultural Barriers

Q: Why don't we start with what the current cultural environment is like for e-government?

Rick Otis, deputy assistant administrator, Office of Environmental Information: There are people who get [e-government], and there are people that we have in the agency who don't have the skills, don't have the experience. They deal with essentially a world of paper flow, and they don't understand what the technology could do for them. And when they come together on some kind of project, you've got a learning curve you have to manage and transform.

Laura Callahan, deputy chief information officer, Labor Department: We operate in a risk-avoidance environment. We have to be able to accept a certain level of risk and accept the potential failure in and of itself, that that hypothesis may be proven false. Just the fact that we are able to prove it's false in and of itself is a success. Right now we really "incent" people based on making zero mistakes, and as a result, we create these overly bureaucratic processes for zero risk.

Dan Chenok, director, information policy and technology branch, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Citizens and businesses still don't have sufficient confidence in security and privacy in how government operates open networks and trust in that framework. And that's more than technology. It's about convincing them and communicating to them that we have a process to do that, and it's about using the cross-agency process to bring that about.

Q: How do we get there? What needs to be done?

Gloria Parker, chief information officer, Department of Housing and Urban Development: One of the ways I've gotten a lot of people in [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] on the bandwagon for e-government is through the capital planning process. They are all asking for money to enhance and modernize, but they have to demonstrate that they are re-engineering these processes that they want money for and that they are moving toward an electronic-government process.

Tony Trenkle, deputy associate commissioner, Office of Electronic Services, Social Security Administration: It's really driven by the leadership. The new political leaders need to be trained that e-government is a priority, and that message needs to be communicated down through the ranks.

Rick Otis: We take a small percentage of our total IT spending every year and hold it in reserve. Teams of people from the program offices have to come up much like an entrepreneur wanting to start a new company who has to go to an investment firm. They show us their business case, and they compete with about 20 other projects. That instills in them an understanding of how to justify it, how to get a business case going.

Mark Krzysko, deputy director for defense procurement and electronic business, Defense Department: I think you need to have strong leadership partnerships. When we undertook [enterprise resource planning], we were going to implement technology. Absent the process owners buying into that, it was going to fail miserably. We took the opportunity to create the partnership between the CIO and the process owners in financial as well as procurement, as well as the implementers.

Q: What about risk avoidance?

Dave McClure, director of information technology management issues, General Accounting Office: We need to get the $52 billion in IT spending put into the four-quadrant table of risk vs. value and understand that we don't need to focus management attention on low-risk, low-value projects. We need to figure out how to move the quadrants around to get Congress and everyone focused on the high-risk, high-return projects and realize there are risks out there. If we can focus our resources on them and focus on outcomes, the return can be tremendous.

Q:How does government improve security, privacy and trust?

Kevin Landy, majority counsel, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee: I think this is where Congress can have a real impact. I think it's best for Congress to wait on a management framework, to let agencies fulfill these responsibilities and then provide resources. In the case of security, this has already happened with [the Government Information Security Reform Act], which Sen. [Joe] Lieberman's legislation would make from that. In the case of privacy, there is something new in his legislation, which would require agency officials, when they are developing a new IT system, to fill out a privacy impact assessment. It's essentially a checklist in which you have to say, "Yes, I've considered each of these privacy issues, and this is how I would address them."

Organizational Barriers

Q: What are the current organizational barriers impeding e-government?

Tony Trenkle: It's the stovepiped organizations. We're not organized to do e-government today...that's the biggest problem.

Chris Niedermayer, associate chief information officer, Agriculture Department: E-government is cross-discipline. It's forms, it's information collections, it's programs, it's information delivery. All these things are separate. We need to take a more cross-functional view of the delivery and organize around it.

Steve App, deputy chief financial officer, Treasury Department: There is a very significant integrator community that provides a lot of the workforces you have, which are structured around functional silos. I think we need to recognize that there is a preservation incentive for that integrator community to have those silos exist. So at the same time, you have conflict internally across your silos, that conflict exists in the integrator community.

Q: How do we knock down stovepipes?

Scott Hastings, associate commissioner, Information Resources Management Office, INS: There needs to be a separate door and a separate structure that interagency efforts go through that allows [the Office of Management and Budget] to judge their efficacy and determine whether they want to invest. It allows [Capitol] Hill to cooperate with an integrated funding mechanism.

Kevin Landy: You have to start slow, demonstrate to the appropriators that it can work, and then maybe it develops from there.

Laura Callahan: We pooled from the program funds and created a central IT crosscut capability within the department, and it was painful to get program officials to let go of the money, but the challenge that we have and we won was being able to articulate to them how they would still be able to complete their mission, while at the same time get more value for their investment.

John Condon, president of federal services, Group Decision Support Systems Inc.: If I were in another agency, and I knew how you weren't above pooling those funds and so forth, then I don't have to reinvent it, so that's knowledge management. Maybe OMB is the clearinghouse for that. I don't know who is, but it's needed. The "it" here is the lessons learned and the really positive experiences, as well as the negative experiences, so that you can take advantage of that knowledge.

Steve Perkins, senior vice president of Oracle Corp.’s public-sector and homeland security business: There should be a clearinghouse that I can go to that specifies a set of performance requirements, characteristics, cleared throughout the agencies, that not only looks at functions but it looks at implementation. That's my concept of an e-business owner, not an individual necessarily, but a clearing body.

Resources Barriers

Rick Otis: We don't ever really move people around. If you can develop incentives for managers to take people across've begun to share information and you've begun to solve problems that you weren't able to solve before. But as it is now, trying to detail someone out of the existing organization structure is a nightmare.

Gloria Parker: If we help the executive management understand that if they save money by moving e-government solutions, we can put it [toward] the antiquated enterprise or on institutional systems and bring those up to speed such as human resources systems, financial systems, grant systems, all these things that are typically ignored. They're antiquated and inadequate to support us the way we want to be supported today.

Q: How do we do that?

Laura Callahan: Wouldn't it be interesting with the current budget formulation process to take a couple of the key change agents out of the federal community and put them at the OMB budget decision-making table to [discuss] those common investments that we're all competing for money on, that are essentially duplicative, and let that group come to some kind of a decision on how to invest those resources, where it means some are going to have to give some of these up for the good of the whole?

Dan Chenok: That's part of what Deborah Stouffer's done as the federal enterprise architecture program manager, is to help us identify what those investments are so that we can do that. I'll take that back to Mark [Forman at OMB].


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