E-gov projects win over doubters as support blooms

Agencies are more willing than ever to take ownership of and devote resources to the Office of Management and Budget-sponsored e-government initiatives.

But a few stragglers are holding back complete adoption.

The Government Accountability Office and OMB officials said sections of the appropriations bills for the Commerce and Interior departments, and disagreements on project governance, have led to delays in a handful of Quicksilver initiatives.

Agency executives have yet to take control of certain projects, and they rely too much on OMB to make funding and administrative decisions, said John Sindelar, project executive for OMB’s Line of Business Consolidation effort.

“All the projects are at various stages, and some are more successful than others,” Sindelar said last month during a panel discussion at the American Council for Technology’s 2005 Management of Change conference in Philadelphia. “As a part of the e-government structure, it takes someone to step up, and that is not happening in all instances.”

Auditors said a mix of issues plagued 10 e-government projects it reviewed in a recent report. Errors ranged from a lack of direction from administration officials, to congressional pushback, to an overall shortage of funding. Auditors found that six projects had funding shortfalls in 2003 and nine in 2004.

But while GAO and OMB officials found pockets of resistance, agencies are seeing the value of these projects, said administration officials and other experts.

“Over the last three years, the number of resisters and naysayers has gone down dramatically,” said Oscar Morales, E-Rulemaking program director.

Tim Young, OMB’s associate administrator for e-government and IT, said the E-Government Office received commitments from 90 percent of federal agencies to implement and fund the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects. At this time last year, about 40 percent of the agreements were in place. Agencies that would use a project provide a set amount of funding through an interagency agreement. The funding structure differs for each project.

“The agreements provide the initiatives more money at critical points of the fiscal year,” Young said at the conference.

Morales’ E-Rulemaking project had suffered more from money problems than did any of the other projects reviewed, GAO said. The project, which consolidates rulemaking systems around the government, received money in 2004 from only nine of 35 agencies. But for 2005, Morales said
E-Rulemaking has agreements from 95 percent of the project’s partners.

Before getting those agreements, Morales said the team had to show IT managers what their return on investment would be.

Acting the part

“CIOs have expectations and want the projects to meet them,” Morales said. “They are acting like a legitimate board of directors or customers.”

John Kamensky, senior fellow at IBM’s Center for the Business of Government, said ownership and getting funding agreements are two of the most difficult things to attain.

“A centralized e-government fund would not have worked, because it would not have promoted ownership,” said Kamensky, a former GAO auditor. “If agencies feel ownership, they are more likely to provide dollars, resources and data.”

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