Agencies slip on e-gov progress

Latest management score cards disappoint fed program officials

President's Management Agenda Score Card

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Six agencies' e-government scores dropped in the latest status report on the President's Management Agenda. Bush administration officials attribute the downgraded scores to failures to meet project milestones, but some experts said the lower scores don't necessarily indicate a lack of progress.

The Office of Management and Budget's fourth-quarter report shows only four agencies receiving green scores for their e-government programs, down from seven agencies in the previous quarter. Green signifies successful, yellow denotes satisfactory, and red indicates a failing score.

The latest quarterly report shows nine agencies with red scores for e-government, compared with six last quarter. A year ago, eight agencies had green scores for e-government, and only seven had failing scores.

OMB officials evaluate agencies' current status and overall progress on President Bush's five management priorities, which are the federal workforce, competitive sourcing, financial performance, e-government, and budget and performance integration. OMB began tracking executive branch agencies' scores in 2002.

Federal agencies met about 97 percent of their e-government milestones in the quarter that ended Sept. 30, but a few missed goals dragged the scores down, said Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management.

One agency did not deploy interoperable disaster management services as planned. Another agency failed to meet its goal of posting 25 percent of its discretionary grant application packages on the Grants.gov Web site. And many agencies are still not using an online system for federal rulemaking, Johnson said.

On the current status of e-government projects, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and NASA dropped from green to yellow. A similar downturn occurred at the Interior and Justice departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose e-government status scores fell from yellow to red.

Kim Nelson, the EPA's chief information officer, declined to discuss the scores, but spokeswoman Suzanne Ackerman said the agency showed overall progress on the President's Management Agenda. "Things go in phases, and we are confident we are moving forward," Ackerman said.

Scott Cameron, deputy assistant secretary for performance, accountability and human resources at Interior, called the downgraded score a temporary blip. He said the department was working hard to reach the five milestones it missed. Responding to Hurricane Katrina diverted Interior's resources and attention from e-government initiatives such as e-authentication, he added.

Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology, said maintaining a green score is difficult. If an agency misses a milestone, its status on the score card drops, and some agencies have 100 milestones to meet to maintain their status, she said. The latest scores reflect the fact that e-government has moved from a planning to an implementation phase, she added.

Fred Thompson, vice president for management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government, said OMB's annual reviews might be more meaningful than the quarterly scores because they represent an agency's overall management achievements. A poor quarterly score card doesn't tell the whole story, he said.

"A small number of factors could cause you to drop a grade, and it may not reflect the overall program going from good to average," Thompson said.

Drew Crockett, deputy communications director for the House Government Reform Committee, agreed that score fluctuations are not unusual, especially because some agencies are only beginning to implement their e-government plans. "We would much rather see agencies take their time to establish excellent programs rather than rush the job to get a good grade," he said.

The primary reasons agencies receive poor fourth-quarter scores include a lack of good project management, technical challenges and funding cuts, said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute. DeMaio said he was most disappointed by the failure to post grant applications on Grants.gov, a responsibility that he said rested with Interior and Justice.

"If you don't continue the momentum, things can atrophy and slide," DeMaio said. The focus now is on implementing, executing and institutionalizing management improvement, he added.

OMB officials said they expect e-government gains to be on track by next quarter. For agencies that have attained green scores on all or most of the president's management priorities, such as the Transportation and Labor departments, sustaining that success is the next challenge, Evans said.

"They will tell you it's really hard to be green," she said, but staying green is hard, too.

Michael is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Judi Hasson contributed to this report.

E-gov scores dip

Several agencies saw their e-government scores downgraded in the latest progress report on the President's Management Agenda. Green represents successful, yellow satisfactory and red failing.

  • Total number of green scores for the current status of e-government programs:
      This quarter — 4
      Previous quarter — 7
  • Total number of yellow scores for the current status of e-government programs:
      This quarter — 13
      Previous quarter — 13
  • Total number of red scores for the current status of e-government programs:
      This quarter — 9
      Previous quarter — 6
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