Orszag: Closing IT gap leads to responsible government

'Closing the IT gap is perhaps the single most important step we can take in creating a more efficient and responsive government,' OMB Director Peter Orszag says.

The biggest step in creating a more valuable government is closing the gap between the private and public sectors' information technology, a senior Obama administration official said today.

Americans “have witnessed the movement from one-size-fits-all, mass production and secretarial pools to the age of just-in-time, customized manufacturing and instant communications,” Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a speech at the Center for American Progress. “Organizations outside government have experienced impressive advances in productivity and have become more responsive to their customers. The government, however, has not kept pace.”

The government had cutting-edge technology for years until the late 1980s, Orszag said. Both the public and private sectors productivity growth were matched through 1987. But the private sector’s growth rose by 1.5 percent annually through 1995, while the public sector grew by only 0.4 percent per year. As the private sector’s productivity took off again after 1995, the public sector lagged behind. Orszag noted that public-sector productivity is hard to calculate after 1995 because the Bureau of Labor Statistics stopped collecting the data as part of a cost-cutting measure.


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“Closing the IT gap is perhaps the single most important step we can take in creating a more efficient and responsive government,” Orszag said. “Indeed, it is the key differentiator between our effort to modernize and reform government and those that have come before.”

To do that, the Obama administration is first trying to cut wasteful IT programs, he said. Many high-performing companies cancel roughly a third of their IT projects in the first six months.

The "federal government, by and large, terminates almost none,” he said.

Today, administration officials ordered all agencies to cut 5 percent of their discretionary budget in fiscal 2012 and to find those cuts in programs that don’t help the agency’s mission or a relevant presidential initiative.

The administration has used the IT dashboard, a Web portal that lets the public see how a department is spending tax money, to bring attention to wasteful programs that need cancellation, he said. As an example, Orszag referenced the Veterans Affairs Department. Its IT dashboard revealed 45 IT projects that were at-risk, and VA officials terminated 12 of them.

To bring about a more efficient government, officials are using technology to make government operations run more smoothly. They are also making government more open and responsive to various sectors through IT by delivering services that are convenient and worth the cost, Orszag said.

“The lesson is: Implementation matters,” Orszag said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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