Editorial: Share and share alike

One must give credit where credit is due: The Bush administration has gone a long way toward centralizing administrative management functions.

In the 1990s, then-Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) pushed for the creation of an Office of Management separate from the Office of Budget. He said the combined Office of Management and Budget was unable to focus on management because of the effort involved with the budget.

During the Clinton administration, OMB officials countered that the budget gave OMB both the carrot and the stick that enabled the administration to carry out its management agenda.

The Bush administration — beginning with Mark Forman, former OMB administrator for e-government and information technology — has made a priority of the concept of “build once, use often.” And administration officials have made effective use of the carrot and the stick to centralize authority within OMB to build cross-agency systems.

Those systems should benefit agencies, not hinder them. During Federal Computer Week’s conversation with IT executives about how they handle budget pressures (see Page 16), sharing was a recurring theme.

Stephen Fletcher, the Education Department’s deputy chief information officer and chief technology officer, however, said it is important that agencies remain focused on their missions.

During the budget process, Fletcher said, OMB officials will ask if a program or system is for the good of the department or the good of the federal government so it can save money.

“That’s fine, but I still have to achieve my departmental mission and goal,” he said. “If you’re telling me, ‘Well, let’s share data because it’s good for everybody, but you have to take a reduction in your capabilities and your functionality and ability to meet your goals and objective,’ I really have a problem with that. That is not a good situation for any of the departments or agencies.”

Agencies must focus on their missions. And if collaboration works the way it is supposed to, it should allow agencies to focus rather than get distracted by nonmission-critical issues. The theory has yet to be fully proven — either for or against — but the potential benefits favor continuing tests.

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