Trick or Treat

What feds should expect from the next administration

President Bush. President Kerry.

For IT workers across government, the difference between either candidate’s approach to technology will be defined by the nuances. But the goal will be the same: Use IT to make government citizen-centered, market-based and results-oriented.

“No matter who is elected, the e-government agenda will continue,” said Bill Eggers, director of research at Deloitte and Touche LLP of New York and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a New York think tank. “The difference will be the emphasis.”

Experts and advisers inside the John Kerry campaign said the Massachusetts senator would continue the centralized approach begun by George W. Bush under the President’s Management Agenda but give federal employees more power to make changes in their agencies.

“Senator Kerry believes government can be a positive force,” said Paul Weinstein, co-chairman of the Kerry campaign’s government reform working group. “We will build off things that have been successful like some aspects of the President’s Management Agenda. The goal, like in the 1990s, is to make people feel that they can interact with government more easily.”

On the other hand, should Bush win a second term, the president’s top-down management approach likely would gain renewed energy as some agencies come under new leadership.

Second act

“A lot of the groundwork and foundation has been laid through the first term,” said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget. “In a second term, we have the ability and potential to transform the way agencies deliver services.”

Both candidates see transforming the way agencies serve their constituents as an opportunity to save money and improve government’s value to citizens.

Bush would continue down the path that started with the 25 Quicksilver initiatives to use e-government projects to improve service. The administration would promote its follow-up effort, the Lines of Business projects, as well as focus on negotiating enterprise software licenses, requiring agencies to better justify IT investments and advancing the use of enterprise architectures.

The administration would work on integrating health care and IT, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for IT and e-government.

Kerry, too, said he would focus on health care and IT. He would ask agencies to work with the private sector to develop comprehensive plans for creating universal electronic medical records by 2008.

But Kerry has talked little about broad government IT management, which Bush did during a July 2000 speech when he first brought up the premise behind his management agenda.

“I don’t see any understanding in the Kerry campaign rhetoric of a management structure view,” said Mark Forman, a former OMB administrator for IT and e-government for the Bush administration. “To me, that says it will not be a centralized approach. It will be back to the National Performance Review days where there were a lot of ideas and the plan was to get some done.”

Forman said Kerry’s management vision is more tactical and Bush’s more strategic.

But some observers close to the Kerry campaign disagreed with Forman’s criticism.

Robert Atkinson, vice president and director of the technology and new economy project for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, said Kerry would do more to generate results than the Bush administration has done.

“What you will see in a Kerry administration, I would argue, is more strategic thinking about the use of IT to accomplish government missions,” he said. “You would see a bigger focus in using technology to deter terrorism, lower health care costs and improve access to government, and do more with e-learning. It is about using government in an active way to advance policy goals.”

Steve Kelman, a former procurement chief in the Clinton administration and a professor at Harvard University’s Ken-nedy School for Government, said Kerry’s plan probably would fall in between President Clinton’s reinventing-government philosophy and Bush’s management approaches.

“My hope and advice to Senator Kerry would be to pursue bipartisanship and continuity as much as possible,” Kelman said. “He needs to reach out to people like Congressman Tom Davis (R-Va.) and not make changes for the sake of change.”

In a recent report criticizing the Bush administration’s e-government progress, Atkinson outlined some items Kerry would consider.

He said Kerry would look at what Canada has done in giving a central federal CIO the money and authority to make e-government decisions. The report also suggested better coordination between state, local and federal agencies through a more robust FirstGov portal, and improving e-democracy processes that would give citizens more options to affect government decisions.

Merging agencies

“We haven’t bit the bullet yet in the United States when it comes to e-government,” Atkinson said. “We think we can get away on the cheap politically and financially—and it is not working.”

During the campaign, Kerry has said his priorities include merging more than 70 agencies that handle a variety of statistics, combining the Commerce Department’s Technology Administration and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and providing first responders with a secure, wireless network by the end of 2006.

Kerry also has said he would freeze the federal travel budget and cut 100,000 contract employees.

Even so, Weinstein said, Kerry would not take a “slash and burn” approach to reducing the contract workforce. He would spend the first year of his administration studying the effects of government programs on citizens to learn where inefficiencies exist.

But OMB officials argue that that is what they have been doing for the last four years using the Performance Assessments Ratings Tool and by requiring that agencies submit business cases justifying their IT budgets.

“It is one thing to find efficiencies and better manage IT projects, but the challenge becomes delivering benefits to taxpayers and making programs better,” OMB’s Johnson said. “We want to produce more for less, or at least the same costs.”

Johnson said the PMA would remain intact and the administration would continue to push agencies to green and beyond on the quarterly ratings scorecard. OMB would finish reviewing all the government’s programs over the first two years of a second Bush administration to determine if every agency initiative is meeting the needs of citizens.

“The PMA has to do with this administration holding people accountable to achieve results,” Evans said. “There is a lot of transparency, and that is the difference between the Bush and Clinton administrations. People have jobs to do and this administration is holding them accountable in a public way.”

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