Seeking e-gov users, OMB goes Madison Avenue

The planning and development are done, the technology and administration are in place, and all that’s left for three e-government projects is for the Office of Management and Budget to unveil them to the public.

Over the last three years, the 25 initial Quicksilver projects have faced funding challenges, technological hurdles and political obstacles. For some, the last challenge is finding users to take advantage of the benefits they offer.

Administration officials earlier this month hired Edelman Public Relations of New York to develop marketing plans for E-Authentication, International Trade Process Streamlining and Recreation One-Stop.

“These are among the projects that are ready to graduate, so to speak,” said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT. “They are technically done, and now their issues are just about utilization.”

OMB and agency managing partners over the past year have been collecting baseline information on who their audiences are, how their services meet customer needs and the best ways to measure citizen use, Evans said.

Edelman by early September will evaluate the projects and create a plan to inform citizens about their services. By Dec. 31, at least seven other initiatives, including Disaster Management, E-Rulemaking, GovBenefits, and Recruitment One-Stop, will have marketing plans in place, Evans said.

Evans said the plans for the first three projects could be used as templates for the remaining initiatives. She said there are recurring themes in each project. This likely is the reason OMB chose them, since they represent three of the four portfolios the agency established for the Quicksilver projects—government-to-citizen, government-to-business, and internal efficiency and effectiveness. No projects from the fourth portfolio, government-to-government, were selected for the first round of marketing.

OMB deputy director for management Clay Johnson “asked whether it makes sense for agencies to be marketing experts or [to] hire someone do that,” she said. “This is a bit different than how we traditionally put up services.”

Agencies usually create services and market them with little budget or expert help. Department officials have relied on word of mouth, press coverage and listing new Web sites or services in brochures.

The efforts of the General Services Administration to popularize the FirstGov portal and many of the IRS’ electronic filing services are examples of more active mass marketing.

For the e-government initiatives, OMB signed up Edelman for four months plus two option years. The contract for the first four months is worth $261,000. OMB is using its e-government fund to pay for Edelman’s services, Evans said.

Evans said agencies will market theire-government projects in phases, targeting different areas.
After spending a small amount of the $3 million E-Government Fund on the marketing plans, Evans said OMB allocated almost $2.8 million for work on the Small Business Administration’s Business Gateway initiative, evaluating the Lines of Business consolidation projects and collecting baseline customer information for each e-government project.

OMB also used some of the funds to hire a contractor to independently validate and verify that each Quicksilver project has the proper documentation and complies with federal regulations and requirements.

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