Steven Law | E-gov's Ardent Activist
Interview with Steven Law, deputy secretary of Labor and chairman of the President's Management Council's E-government Committee
Steven Law is the second deputy secretary of the Labor Department
to head the President’s Management Council’s E-government Committee.
It’s no surprise that the Office of Management and Budget continues to
tap Labor Department leaders. The agency was the first to earn all green
scores on the President’s Management Agenda Scorecard and the second
agency to obtain a green in the E-government category.
Law, who has been deputy secretary of Labor since Dec. 2003, does not consider
himself a techie, but does enjoy the fruits of technology. A music composition
major at the University of California-Davis, he has since his college days
been playing and composing music on Buchla synthesizers, which are early,
analog electronic instruments dating to the mid-1960s.
GCN: With Labor celebrating the fourth anniversary
of GovBenefits.gov, what has the impact
been of the portal from a governmentwide
LAW: A couple of things. It required a lot of
front-end agency collaboration, which is
one of the core values of the entire e-government
The second significant thing is it really
points to [the] tantalizing potential of egovernment,
which is that you can potentially
create one-stop Internet portals for
citizens to transact a tremendous amount
of business with government in a way
they are increasingly accustomed to doing
with the private sector.
In the private sector, the tolerance for
multiple clicks and pages to execute transactions
is rapidly diminishing. On the government
side, you still have to deal with
multiple portals, agencies and a lot of complicated
transactions to get whatever bene-
fit or information you want. What the Gov-
Benefits portal shows is the potential to
radically simplify the process.
GCN: Does GovBenefits need to take the next
step of applying for benefits online to really
make an impact with users?
LAW: We are in the process of evaluating
what would be required to do that. It is
not as simple as it looks on the surface.
We would need an e-authentication protocol
that would work equally in any
agency’s environment. That initiative still
has a ways to go and that is not even really
under our control.
The second issue, which would fall
under our domain to work through, is
how many programs could be put together
in a single system where they share
enough information fields, enough eligibility
requirements where you could build
a single, but very large, application to
process all of those. We need to assess all
of those first.
It could be that GovBenefits.gov is now
the best value for the money. We have to
evaluate the potential for giving it more
GCN: From your position with the PMC, how
frustrating has the lack of support from Congress
been for e-government?
LAW: We have spent a lot of time talking
about how we can better close the sale
I don’t think the appropriators’ hesitancy
is based on lack of support for the idea
of government embracing technology.
Their concerns are legitimate, and the
burden is on us to meet them.
They want to see the value for the money,
and I believe we can demonstrate the
value. We need to communicate to them in
ways that go beyond the latest PMA milestones
and show actual net benefits of
cross-agency collaborations resulting in
new citizen-friendly applications.
I think the other thing about appropriators,
based on my experience on the Hill
and having worked for [an appropriator], is
that they do tend to approach money issues
from a committee- and subcommittee-centric
viewpoint. The approach to e-government
we have taken has been cross-siloed,
emphasized cross-agency collaboration and
cost-sharing. That kind of approach, while I
think is vital to long-term success, does not
automatically square with the natural
worldview of appropriators. We need to
find ways to better close the gap.
GCN: What will be the most challenging aspect
of E-Government from the PMC’s standpoint
over the next few years?
LAW: There have been a lot of successes we
feel good about and we are entering a new
phase in several respects. In one respect:
We are going to have to make a sale with
the Hill or face increasing opposition there.
Second, we are entering a phase with
the agencies where we will have to start
driving traffic to these common solutions,
which will mean reducing the number of
redundant sites. That will be a challenging
phase, because you have a lot of resources,
history and culture that are invested
in agency specific applications.
The third phase—which is the largest—
is going from Quicksilver ... to the threshold
of the Lines of Business, which is a
much larger view of e-government, which
transcends the e-side of the e-government
moniker. We are challenging agencies to
look at parts of their operation that are
very specifically mission-focused and
those things that are more generic administrative
functions and encourage agencies
on the latter part.
GCN: What are the PMC’s priorities as it relates
to E-government and the Lines of Business initiatives?
LAW: If you look at what we talk to agencies
about right now, a lot of milestones
OMB is setting for agencies and a lot of
my discussions with Karen [Evans, OMB
administrator of e-government and IT]
and among PMC members, is heavily focused
on the Lines of Business.
There are a lot of policy issues it raises:
to what extent it dovetails with competitive
sourcing; to what extent when we create
these LOBs is there a private-sector
role to also compete for the centers of excellence.
GCN: What is the biggest policy challenge for
LAW: I think it is going to be demonstrating
to agencies that they can maintain or upgrade
the quality of what they have now
internally. It seems to me that making the
sale on LOB may be easier than it was on
the initial e-government initiatives for this
reason: Many of the initial e-government
initiatives touch much closer to the program
and policy nerves of agencies.
As we have seen it internally, we have
been getting less pushback because people
understand it is not directly connected
to mission activity. I’m hopeful
LOB will be easier to get with the agencies.
Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.