Agencies hesitate to fund e-gov

Agencies are balking at contributing funds to the 25 Quicksilver projects, forcing many of the e-government efforts to fall behind schedule.

Project managers recently said agencies have blamed a number of factors, such as the delay in passage of a fiscal 2003 budget or doubts about a project’s value.

“We have good funding support from six of 10 partners,” said Charles Havekost, program manager for the Health and Human Services Department’s E-Grants initiative. “It is a challenge to have everyone live up to their commitments.”

As project leaders struggle under funding constraints, little additional help seems forthcoming. The Bush administration’s 2004 budget request includes $173.9 million in agency contributions to the 25 projects, down $54.3 million from this year, according to Exhibit 53, the Office of Management and Budget’s breakdown of the president’s IT budget request.

The figures do not include IT investments by the Defense Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency. OMB said reports for those agencies will be issued next month.

Mark Forman, OMB’s associate director for IT and e-government, said the decrease in funding reflects two things: the refinement of cost estimates and that some projects are winding down.

“These are focused 18- to 24-month efforts, and on some we will declare victory because we got 90 percent of the value,” he said. “We also have worked through more of the programs’ details, and as we refined them, costs are coming down. We consider that good project management.”

Innovative funding

In all, 13 projects would receive more funding, 10 less and two the same amount in fiscal 2004, compared with this year.

“Most of the work and results hit in 2003, so that is why there is a difference in the funding,” Forman said. “A ramp-down will definitely occur in 2004 because the bulk of the work will happen in 2003.”

In the meantime, agencies are finding innovative ways to make sure funding is provided by partner agencies.

Havekost, who was one of four e-government project leaders who spoke this month at the Web-Enabled Conference sponsored by E-Gov in Washington, said HHS formed an executive board of the 11 E-Grants project partners.

The board, which includes assistant secretaries, CIOs, chief financial officers and deputy assistant secretaries, agreed to a financial plan that called for agencies to contribute 25 percent of all required funding last year, 50 percent this year and 25 percent next year.

HHS based each agency’s contributions on an algorithm that factored in discretionary funding and the number of funding transactions annually, and divided the partners up into small, medium and large categories. HHS asked the medium-size departments to pay one-eleventh of the project cost, small agencies to contribute half that, and large agencies to pay 1.5 times that amount.
HHS also is receiving funds from nonpartner agencies, including the Small Business Administration and the Agency for International Development, because they will use the portal.

The Labor Department’s GovBenefits project followed a similar tactic, said Denis Gusty, project manager.

Labor based its formula on the number of benefit programs an agency will provide to the portal, he said.

“Getting the commitment from the partner agencies was more difficult for some than others,” Gusty said. “And then collecting the funds also was more difficult with some than others.”

Forman said OMB expects more agencies to fulfill their funding commitments now that Congress has passed the 2003 budget. And for those agencies that still are slow to contribute, Forman said, OMB will apply pressure through the President’s Management Agenda scorecard, general coaxing and by letters to agency secretaries directing the funding.

Havekost and Gusty both said the funding problems have not slowed their projects. But, Havekost said, a lack of money will force HHS to fund as it goes instead of paying for the work up front.

The same can’t be said for all projects. At the General Services Administration, the E-Authentication project is suffering because of agencies’ delinquency, said Adrian Fish, deputy project manager.

Missed milestone

The initiative will miss its September milestone for fully launching the gateway, she said.

“We have been working with our partner agencies so they see the value of the gateway. But I think as they see applications come on and the money [the gateway] is saving them, the value is being demonstrated,” Fish said. “We are going back to the drawing board to try to get more money from partner agencies.”

Agencies requested $8.1 million for E-Authentication in the 2004 budget, down from $12.1 million for this year.

The Office of Personnel Management’s E-Payroll project came in as the big winner for 2004, with a probable boost of more than $22 million coming from three agencies, including a $32.5 million request by the Agriculture Department.

E-Training, also led by OPM, is earmarked for an increase of more than $9 million from 10 agencies, including nine that did not request funding for the initiative for this year.

E-Rulemaking project leaders could see $2.9 million more next year, for a total of $3.6 million.

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