Letter to the editor

I downloaded and read the Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFFIRM) resource paper, "Blueprint for Successful E-Government Implementation" and a General Accounting Office paper titled "DOD Financial Management: Important Steps Underway But Reform Will Require a Long-Term Commitment" on the same day.

There are interesting parallels in the papers, especially where the GAO paper discusses the shortfalls of the Defense Department Defense Reform Initiative, the Defense Business Operations Fund (DBOF) initiative and the Corporate Information Management (CIM) initiative. It would appear that the AFFIRM e-government paper has identified many of the same elements.

GAO identified the underlying causes of DOD's financial reform failure as:

1. Lack of sustained leadership and accountability.

2. Cultural resistance and parochialism.

3. Unclear goals and performance measures.

4. Lack of incentives for change.

The OMB e-government initiative appears to be susceptible to these same roadblocks.

GAO criticized the DOD DBOF program for lacking policies and procedures to operate in a businesslike manner. Where are the policies and procedures for the federal government e-government program?

Under CIM, GAO criticized DOD for not relying on a rigorous decision-making process for information technology investments. Where are the analyses of the costs, benefits and technical risks for the e-government program and its projects?

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) calls for the development of outcomes. What are the desired e-government initiative outcomes? While it certainly can be argued that the benefits of e-government are intuitive, who will be performing the formal cost/benefit investment analysis and the post-investment analysis as prescribed under Clinger-Cohen? Who will be report on them under GPRA? The managing organization, the funding organization or the Office of Management and Business?

The AFFIRM paper reflects what many in government IT know. It points out the lack of an overall integrated e-government strategy and plan. E-government, at least on the surface, appears to be an initiative that lacks formal structure, funding, policies and processes. Unless these issues are addressed, e-government risks suffering the same fate as the DOD initiatives.

Case in point: DOD and the Agriculture Department have specified E-Authentication as part of their internal e-government initiatives. Yet OMB has specified E-Authentication as the major cross-cutting initiative for the federal government. What is the relationship? Are their programs duplicative? Are DOD and USDA's E-Authentication programs subordinate to OMB's? Are their programs merely there to support the implementation of the OMB program? Will each executive agency have an e-government organization that is to oversee the implementation of the OMB e-government initiatives as it relates to their agency? Most importantly, how will the funding work?

Cultural resistance is based primarily on "what's in it for me" and fear of loss of resources. A trade publication reported that the Transportation Department is managing the OMB-sponsored Online Rulemaking e-government initiative. Yet the bulk of the funding ($15.9 million out of $27 million) appears to be coming from USDA, with little or no funding coming from DOT. What will be the impact on the USDA? What was the process that put DOT in control of an initiative where it appears it is not providing any of the funding? What accountability for these funds will DOT provide? Are OMB and DOT taking risks with USDA funds? Based on these questions, is there any wonder there is resistance?

Solve the funding issues upfront, and a significant amount of resistance will disappear. OMB should provide incentives for executive agencies to complete their enterprise architectures by a specific date. Agencies have failed to put enterprise architectures into place due to fear of loss of funding and control. Essentially an enterprise architecture details and publishes an organization's IT plans. There is fear that publishing such information makes funding visible from higher in the hierarchy. Everyone is for e-government until it adversely impacts their funding.

The AFFIRM document calls for Congress to establish a corresponding appropriations committee or group to fund e-government projects. As a first step, Congress should immediately have GAO review the e-government initiative and make recommendations on how it should proceed. This would gain congressional backing and establish a consensus approach for e-government.

It should be foreseen that GAO would recommend many of the same elements that it provided in response to DOD's financial management deficiencies:

1. Provide for sustained leadership.

2. Establish clear lines of responsibility, authority, and accountability.

3. Incorporate results-oriented performance measures and monitoring.

4. Establish an enterprise architecture.

5. Ensure effective oversight and monitoring.

OMB should take the AFFIRM e-gov implementation paper to heart. A plan that details structure, funding, policies, and processes is necessary to make e-government a success.

Name withheld by request

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