4 studies in collaboration — Case 4: MAX Federal Community

Budget managers do their number crunching in a collegial online workplace

The MAX Federal Community isn’t as freewheeling as some other government wikis.

It’s a place where officials from the Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies work on budgets, financial management and other executive issues.

The community is a project of OMB’s Budget Formulation and Execution Line of Business, which identified collaboration as a capability that would facilitate the work of those who formulate the federal budget.

Its use by staff from different areas and levels of government “leads to better informed decisions and policies and improvements in our effectiveness and performance,” said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology.

For example, when preparing a comprehensive list of budget earmarks, OMB was able to share draft policies and procedures with agencies, modify those documents and avoid unnecessary work later, she said.

Originally developed to collect budget information, the MAX Federal Community has grown to include communities of interest focused on financial management, grants and government
performance.

The wiki site is a place where officials expect to collaborate in the future on other financial matters, such as continuing resolutions, budget reductions and improper payments.
OMB is a dominant presence in the MAX Federal Community, but other agencies have created wiki pages in the community. MAX has attracted 6,000 users, and as many as 75 new people register each week, an OMB official said.

As wikis inside and outside government attract more users, some wiki communities have yet to address issues of governance, trust and security. MAX satisfies those concerns in its operating rules. “Rules enhance trust and give users the ability to start collaborating,” the OMB official said.

All MAX users must be authenticated and vetted as government employees or contractors.
Users must sign in with their identification and password. The computer system on which the wiki operates is certified and accredited according to requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act. At some point in the future, MAX users will be expected to log on to the site using secure personal identity verification cards. 

Collaborative activities in the MAX community can be restricted to a small group or expanded.
Members can select their own leaders and choose with whom they want to work and share information. MAX participants who publish information are accountable for what they post.

The MAX community requires a higher level of governance and security because of the issues its members deal with, said Ira Grossman, chief enterprise architect at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and chairman of the CIO Council’s Chief Architects Forum. Grossman manages a wiki for the architects’ forum.  

Multipurpose wikis
Government wikis vary. Some collect public comments or feedback on a variety of issues, much like the Amazon.com site hosts user reviews and comments.

Wiki management is mostly manual at this point, which is one of the drawbacks preventing government from providing more external or public-facing wikis, Grossman said.

“The wiki concept will become a major channel with the federal government, but it’s now in its early stage,” Grossman said.

However, even at this early stage, the benefits of using wikis to collaborate and exchange ideas can often outweigh the risks. “A lot of trust issues are about culture change in the government,” said David Wennergren, the Defense Department’s deputy chief information officer, and culture changes slowly. 

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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