Agencies' E-Gov efforts are half-full

OMB touts accomplishments as others question whether fatigue has set in

Agencies are making considerable progress in implementing the administration’s E-Government goals, but a recent report to Congress says the ultimate benefits of the initiatives are still a few hurdles away.

The Office of Management and Budget, in its annual Expanding E-Government report to Congress, found that agencies reached two of the five goals it set last year, yet fell short on a handful of others, including cybersecurity and workforce management (see chart).

New initiatives

While OMB said the report shows that E-Government programs are closer to becoming the “utility” service the administration envisions, one former government official said it also reveals that agencies are struggling to incorporate many of the new initiatives.

“This is a real difficult period of time for many agencies,” said the former official, who requested anonymity. “What you’ve got is the half-full/half-empty problem and right now they’re hitting the wall.”

In some ways, the report de-monstrates that several agencies are feeling E-Government fatigue, the source said. “This is a struggle. This is not easy stuff.”

But Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for E-Government and IT, said at a speech in November that agencies have been well aware of the E-Government requirements and should not be surprised or fatigued.

“We finalized [the milestones] with the agencies in September,” Evans said. If agencies “think there [are] too many milestones—they agreed to them. ... We did try to be very reasonable.”

The administration’s reports on E-Government play a bit of a good-cop/bad-cop role. The recent OMB report lets the administration tout the successes of E-Government by taking a broader view of how agencies have progressed this year. Conversely, the E-Government portion of the quarterly President’s Management Agenda scorecard is more of a blunt instrument with which OMB grades agencies on whether they’ve met their milestones.

In the most recent quarterly scorecard released in November, for example, six agencies slipped from the coveted green status.

The PMA scorecard “tends to accentuate the negative,” said Fred Thompson, vice president of management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government in Washington. “But this report shows the longer-term view of these things and it shows a lot of progress.”

Rep. Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican who co-authored the E-Government Act and is the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he was “quite pleased” with the progress agencies made last year.

“We’ve accomplished much these past three years, but we can and should do more, especially in the area of cybersecurity,” Davis said. “If the government continues to use technology to its advantage, it will prove to be the best vehicle we have for the creation and management of good government.”

On cybersecurity, OMB reported that agencies missed the goal of having 90 percent of the government’s IT systems certified and accredited for the third consecutive year, as only 85 percent of agencies met the goal by Sept. 30.

Still, OMB said the government overall continues “to improve our response to security incidents.”

Also, the government fell far short in closing IT workforce skill gaps, as less than half of agencies have ensured that their IT employees have the training and education they need. While all agencies identified and assessed their workforce shortcomings, OMB hoped that 50 percent would have resolved those gaps.

OMB did not release the percentage of agencies that did meet that goal and said it will be working with the CIO Council to help the government fill in those gaps with specialized programs, such as recruitment activities.

But with more than half the government falling short, the former government official is unsure how agencies will meet other E-Government initiatives.

Meeting goals

“Over 50 percent of the agencies didn’t reach their goal of filling the skill gaps—you need a strong team to make [E-Government] work,” the source said. “If 50 percent of the agencies haven’t closed these gaps, you know they’re double-clutching to meet OMB’s goals.”

Also, the former official said that although agencies met the goal of using enterprise architecture to streamline business functions and present stronger business cases for their IT expenditures, the goals have been around for years and should already be a part of everyday government activity.

“Agencies have been after better business cases for years,” the source said. “Only 85 percent have them now? I think that’s pretty disappointing.”

But Thompson said that for many agencies, implementing E-Government is a major culture change that should not be underestimated.

“EA is a big deal,” he said. “It’s a hard issue to sell to program managers, but it’s where a lot of the progress [and savings] will be reaped.”

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