Success starts with sweet talk

A successful e-government project is built mainly on enterprise architecture plans and other technical elements, but one of its key pillars is something intangible: diplomacy.

“One of your biggest burdens is culture change,” said Norm Enger, the Office of Personnel Management e-government project manager.

Enger is one of the leaders of OPM’s E-Clearance Quicksilver initiative, a project to speed up the processing of government security clearances. Project leaders are now planning the final phase.

E-Clearance’s apparent progress is the result of interagency cooperation combined with support from the Office of Management and Budget, project leaders said.

“You have to have support from the policy management,” Enger said.

OPM has finished two of the project’s three phases, said John Crandell, E-Clearance project manager and chief of oversight and technical assistance for OPM’s Investigations Service.

Enger said the project, which OPM expects to be finished by June, has had the benefit of resources, funding and support from leaders such as Mark Forman, director for IT and e-government at OMB, and Mark Everson, deputy director for management at OMB.

“There’s a real commitment to having this done,” Enger said.

We’re behind you

While some agencies are still struggling to fund their e-government initiatives, Enger said, OMB has backed OPM the entire way—as long as OPM keeps its part of the bargain.

“We need tangible results to show we’re not just talking,” Enger said.

In developing the project, Enger and Crandell became IT diplomats, convincing the 18 investigative agencies that sharing clearance information from their respective databases creates a mutually beneficial relationship.

Getting agencies to work together has been key to success, Crandell said. “The security world is a territorial world,” he said. “It’s coming about because agencies are supportive.”

The first of e-Clearance’s three parts, an electronic questionnaire application known as
e-QIP, will let users fill out clearance forms online. The agency plans to deploy e-QIP in June after it loads all clearance forms to an E-Clearance Web site, Crandell said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service beta-tested e-QIP.

OPM has also compiled information from the 18 agencies that perform clearance investigations. The information, centralized in the Clearance Verification System, will give the investigative agencies a single point of access to clearance records. CVS is built on a consolidated version of the Defense Department’s Joint Personnel Adjudication System and its clearance information database.

“The databases are connected,” Crandell said.

The third phase of the project, retrieving and imaging existing files, will start at the end of May, he said. From there on out, the system will capture clearance data in electronic format, Crandell said.

OPM will spend $50,000 on imaging equipment. Each of the participating investigative agencies must pay for any imaging software or hardware needed to upload records to CVS, Crandell said.

As part of OPM’s investigations program, E-Clearance will earn its keep from other agencies. “No OPM money per se will be used to fund our portion of E-Clearance,” Crandell said, because there’s already enough money in a revolving fund to run E-Clearance until 2011.

E-Clearance is expected to save the government about $258 million over the next 10 years on processing clearances, Crandell said.

Simply having applicants fill out the forms electronically will save the government about $40 per application, he said.

The General Services Administration, which is building the E-Authentication gateway, has said it will tap at least four of the Quicksilver e-government projects to evaluate the system before rolling it out governmentwide.

The E-Clearance team expects the project will be among the first few selected to test the gateway, which will verify the identities of users of federal e-government programs.

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