Forman assures a House panel that e-gov is making progress

The Disaster Management e-government project is back on track, following changes made in October by the Office of Management and Budget. It was one of a handful of projects highlighted at a House hearing last month about how agencies are faring on their e-government projects.

The hearing was the first for the new House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census.

“We are headed in the right direction,” said Mark Forman, OMB’s associate director for IT and e-government. “There are number of projects where we had to take some action, restructure the program and restructure the program office.”

A few projects are ahead of schedule and are on their third iteration, Forman told the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.). Some are working through business process re-engineering efforts and are making acceptable progress, while others are lagging.

Soon to be finished

The Interior Department’s initiative and the IRS’ Free-File project were two that Forman highlighted as nearly complete. Free-File launched a function earlier this month that lets tax preparers file returns for employment taxes for businesses online.

And by the end of next month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the Disaster Management initiative, will offer tools to federal, state and local first responders to share data on its portal, Forman said.

He also said the Health and Human Services Department’s E-Grants and Office of Personnel Management’s E-Payroll initiatives are making satisfactory progress.

“Some are grappling with how to define a migration plan,” Forman said. “We will know they are done when they have migrated off the siloed agency approach and come together around the citizen.”

Hitting some snags

Forman said projects such as the Education Department’s E-Loans, Commerce Department’s International Trade Process Streamlining and Small Business Administration’s Business Compliance One-Stop are struggling. He said E-Loans had to flesh out its business case. Business Compliance One-Stop does not have an adequate program management plan, he said.

When asked to rate e-government on a scale of one to 10, Forman referred to the President’s Management Agenda scorecard rating system and gave the overall work a yellow and its progress a green. When Putnam pressed Forman for a more specific score, Forman said a yellow score is worth about a five and a green score is worth an eight or nine.

Joel Willemssen, managing director for IT issues at the General Accounting Office, told the committee there are success stories such as the Labor Department’s GovBenefits portal and OPM’s E-Training project.

“A lot of these that have had benefits are of the informational nature, where they are providing information to the citizens more quickly, more easily and in a much more accessible format,” he said. “[While] recognizing informational projects are easier, it is not surprising some of the low-hanging fruit was captured more quickly. Transactional or transformational projects will take a little longer and be a little more difficult.”

Willemssen said the more complicated projects will have to address security and privacy concerns and issues such as universal access.

GAO, which reported on the 25 projects in December, continues to follow their progress. Willemssen said GAO requested updated business cases from OMB for all the projects to see whether agencies fixed some of the cost, schedule and performance problems highlighted in the report.

Willemssen said this is part of the audit agency’s normal follow-up work on its recommendations. GAO will not issue a new report but does expect continued congressional oversight, he said.

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