E-gov evolution brings in citizens

As e-government initiatives evolve, future phases could produce more citizen involvement in policies and regulations, an Office of Management and Budget official said.

The first two phases of e-government — bringing a government presence to the Internet and allowing for online transactions by citizens — have been completed, said Dan Chenok, OMB's branch chief for information policy and technology. The next era may involve reaching out to citizens through public forums and discussions so they "can participate in government more efficiently," Chenok said yesterday during a panel discussion at the National Press Club.

Jim Flyzik, a partner in Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates Inc., contended that e-government is now firmly established. "E-gov is here," he said, also speaking on the panel. "It's just a matter of continually evolving it."

Future initiatives, Flyzik said, will include what he described as called "i-government" or "intergovernmental government" work. This work involves agencies working together on cross-government issues.

Technology isn't a barrier for accomplishing e-government initiatives, Flyzik said. Rather, issues such as security, privacy, culture, money and leadership must be overcome for successful e-government initiatives, he said.

Environmental Protection Agency Chief Information Officer Kim Nelson agreed, singling security as a major impediment to the projects. Being forced to shore up computer systems after a virus attack, for example, keeps agency officials from work directly related to the agency's goals, she said.

The EPA is particularly challenged with security issues since the agency often deals with private information about businesses. The sensitive nature of that data — used for policy enforcement and mostly provided by state agencies — presents an information technology hurdle, Nelson said.

"We have not automated any of our processes where we deal with confidential information," she said at the event. "All of this becomes more difficult with the kinds of viruses and worms we've seen this year, and it's only going to get worse."

Agencies must keep patches accurate, and shift from individual desktop support to dealing with the network as a whole, Nelson said.

Panelists also acknowledged a need for skilled project managers to lead major initiatives. The EPA, for example, has struggled to stay on time and within budget on some projects because managers may lack the skills or be overseeing two or three major projects at once, Nelson said.

"We need to improve the training of the IT workforce that grew up over decades," Chenok said. "We need to provide them with training that allows them to see how to take the technology and apply it solving business problems."

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