One step at a time
- By Diane Frank
- May 26, 2003
OMB E-Gov site
Leaders of the 24 e-government initiatives have asked the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) to help develop what they call a "governance framework" for managing e-government projects.
Like commercial firms, individual federal agencies have developed standard ways of doing business, based in part on the work they do and in part on their organizational charts. Those processes, whether written regulations or de facto rules, make up their governance models.
But federal information technology managers are discovering that those routines do not often work well when it comes to e-government initiatives, which require the collaboration of multiple agencies, regardless of their differences in style and audience.
Officials say collaborating on e-government initiatives is challenging because they must resolve such issues as how to measure performance, set program goals, track a project's progress and ensure that each project has enough funding.
IAC's E-Government Shared Interest Group is studying the collaboration issues and plans to provide recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget this summer, said Tricia Iveson, vice chairwoman of the group, speaking at a general interest meeting held by the group May 14.
But developing those recommendations will not be easy because each e-government initiative has slightly different challenges. Some project leaders already have a fairly extensive governance structure in place. For instance, the Grants. gov initiative for moving the federal grants process online has a full-fledged interagency working board and executive board, which has estimated the resources that partner agencies need to invest in the project.
That structure is proving to be an effective way to develop strategies, determine funding, and conduct outreach efforts and other activities necessary to move initiatives forward, said Charles Havekost, program manager for the Grants.gov initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Others, including those involved in the e-Rulemaking initiative, are still developing formal structures. So far, project leaders have been relying on cooperation, said Oscar Morales, program manager for e-Rulemaking at the Environmental Protection Agency.
E-Rulemaking leaders are creating an executive board composed of the chief information officers from the agencies involved in the initiative. They were motivated to take action when they received a letter requesting funding from EPA CIO Kim Nelson, Morales said.
However, sometimes having a funding strategy is not enough. The budget leverage OMB has is a powerful force to hold in reserve, Morales said. But the Grants.gov program management team is also trying a different approach — peer pressure. On the initiative's Web site, leaders post the amount of money the participating agencies have committed to the project and how much they have provided so far.
One governance strategy that addresses the problem of conflicting wants and needs also promotes the overarching e-government goal of "citizen- centered service."
For instance, for the Disaster Management initiative, first responders' needs are paramount, said Mark Zimmerman, the initiative's program manager at the Homeland Security Department. When the federal agencies involved began to disagree about the steps and milestones of the initiative, Zimmerman said he put the state and local partners in charge to ensure that everyone remembers that first responders' needs must drive the initiative.
Much of the struggle comes down to a common challenge cited by all of the e-government leaders at the May 14 meeting: the culture change of thinking about common goals among agencies instead of unique goals, and the process and funding changes that go with it.
Convincing everyone of the need for a culture change has been a significant challenge, said Sara Hebert, the Transportation Security Administration's e-government program manager.
"We need to look at issues from a strategic perspective," she said. "Processes must be in place so change is sustained; otherwise, we will shortchange the value of IT."
The E-Grants Executive Board estimates it will take 15 people and $20 million over 24 months to complete the initiative to move the federal grants process online. Board members used a funding algorithm to spread the cost of the project across the 11 partners involved.
They first determined the size of each agency involved (small, medium or large), then calculated what each must contribute toward the project based on its size. Each partner is expected to commit a minimum of one person's worth of time to work on the initiative, and partners identified as "large" must commit a second person's worth of time.