GAO: E-gov selection too speedy

OMB's E-Government Strategy

When selecting the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives, the Office of Management and Budget did not consider how at least half of the projects would impact customers, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

OMB used a streamlined process to select 34 projects from 350 proposals. To do that, OMB's e-government task force developed abbreviated, "mini" business cases for the projects. The President's Management Council approved the final 24 initiatives in October 2002, less than two months after the process started.

Those mini-plans contained "at least some of the key information" that GAO determined was necessary for OMB to select and oversee the e-government initiatives. But the report notes that OMB did not collect complete business case data.

"OMB did not have all the information needed to fully monitor progress and development of the initiatives," according to the report, "Selection and Implementation of the Office of Management and Budget's 24 Initiatives."

The GAO review was conducted at the request of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), former chairman and current ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and author of the recently signed E-Government Act.

"It troubles me that OMB decided upon its signature e-government initiatives without considering the very factors that it has identified as essential to successful e-government," Lieberman said.

"Especially now that the E-Government Act has passed, I hope that OMB will evaluate its programs more carefully and consult closely with Congress to ensure that its initiatives realize e-government's true potential," he said.

OMB officials, however, said that although the Bush administration streamlined the process, it did assess such key details during the selection proceedings.

"We used a commercial e-strategy best-practice approach" in the selection process, said Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at OMB.

GAO found that fewer than half of the initiatives' business cases addressed collaboration and customer focus, "despite the importance of these topics to OMB's e-government strategy," the report states.

Furthermore, only nine of the initiatives had a strategy for obtaining funding.

In addition, the accuracy of the estimated costs in the funding plans was questionable, GAO determined. Since May 2002, estimated costs for 12 of the initiatives have changed significantly, by more than 30 percent.

Forman argued that the selection process, which is documented in the Bush administration's fiscal 2003 budget and its e-government strategy, includes the use of a "rigorous multi-attribute scoring algorithm to pick initiatives that meet the strategic criteria," he said.

Furthermore, the 24 e-government projects are not new systems. Rather, they are consolidations of projects in which there were redundancies.

"They were the 24 initiatives — out of an original list of over 300 — that reflected the best opportunities to simplify convoluted government initiatives, reduce redundant paperwork burden and save money by consolidating redundant efforts within 18 to 24 months," he said.

Each project did have a detailed business case, but the cases were developed after the selection process, he said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), newly named chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has asked GAO to look again at the Bush administration's e-government projects.

Davis "wants an assessment of whether agencies are taking the initiatives seriously," a Davis spokesman said.

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