Forman: Avoid wireless overlap

E-government chief Mark Forman said Sept. 4 that he wants to put the brakes on $1.5 billion allocated for wireless telecommunications projects because many are redundant.

Although he does not want to terminate the projects, Forman said some should be consolidated and "restructured" to get the biggest bang out of the government's buck.

They include the Wireless Public Safety Interoperable Communications program, or Project SafeCom, an e-government initiative designed to ensure that federal, state and local safety personnel can communicate during emergencies, and the Public Safety Wireless Network, which is a joint project of the Treasury and Justice departments launched in 1996 to serve the public safety community.

Forman, who is the associate director for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, said federal officials began restructuring the projects in May. "It continues to evolve as we learn what works.... Most of the evolution is dealing with state and local governments."

Forman spoke at the 41st annual Interagency Resources Management Conference in Hershey, Pa.

Ronald Miller, CIO of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who is on detail at the Office of Homeland Security, said he agreed with Forman's plans.

"It is imperative to develop interoperability for public safety officials," Miller said, instead of spending billions on individual wireless processes.

Forman told the conference audience that e-government initiatives continue to be on the drawing boards and government officials continue to work toward a citizen-centric system. Among the ideas:

* Electronic form filing for the trucking industry is expected to be operational by December. It would enable truckers to file all regulatory forms to state, local and federal governments online.

* A similar project for the food industry is still in development stages.

* A U.S. export project involving the State, Defense and Commerce departments to make it easier for exporters to comply with trade laws online.

Forman said the urgency behind the government's homeland security initiative has only made e-government more essential. For the fiscal 2004 budget, Forman said he is not looking for a cap on IT spending but "much smarter use of investments...[and] some consolidation in the back office."

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