OMB official outlines his plan for overhauling e-government

The federal government is spinning its wheels trying to implement e-government, according to Mark Forman, the new associate director for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget. In an interview with GovExec.com, Forman laid out his plan to identify "high payoff" e-government projects for agencies. The government "clearly [is] not getting the bang for the buck in terms of productivity" of its technology initiatives, he said. Forman will lead an interagency task force to coordinate President Bush's e-government agenda. The task force will first look for major obstacles standing in the way of putting in place e-government programs, and then will work to eliminate those barriers. Forman said a lack of communication between information technology specialists and senior program officials is the chief reason the government has not seen bigger gains from e-government. Overcoming that communication barrier will require support from upper leadership, Forman said. To that end, the task force will be made up of a representative from each agency who holds some level of senior responsibility for e-government projects. Those people will report directly to their agency or department heads, Forman said. In turn, Forman said that he'll work with more junior level professionals, such as individual IT department employees, on a day-to-day basis. Forman said a steering committee of representatives from the President's Management Council and other people will come up with 20 to 60 project ideas in the next 18 months. Those ideas will fall into four categories: individual citizens, businesses, internal government affairs and internal government efficiency and effectiveness programs. The government efficiency ideas will be aimed at reducing administrative costs through the use of best practices in such areas as financial, supply chain and knowledge management. A fundamental shift in behavior is important to OMB Director Mitch Daniels, who said in an address Wednesday that the government needs to use easy-to-deploy standardized technology solutions rather than let project managers implement dissimilar technologies in different agencies. "We believe many people in the agencies have good ideas of how to bring these initiatives forward," but too often well-intentioned projects die because of mismanagement, Forman said. The foundation for Forman's plan of attack, which he said he developed in his career at Unisys and while working with state and local e-government programs, is the book Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance (Harvard Business School Press, 1998). The bestselling book argues that there are pivotal moments in technological innovation that fundamentally change the way people conduct their lives and business. The task force will look for the biggest gaps in individual agency performance plans and address those gaps with Internet and e-business applications modeled after best practices in the private sector, Forman said. By looking for big improvements in agency performance from the beginning, OMB will know whether the initiatives are working, he said. "The key is to align a lot of the buzzword-type technologies with where they provide the greatest strategic improvement," Forman said. Forman also expressed concern over the amount of money allocated to support e-government projects. He is charged with doling out the President's proposed $100 million e-government fund for interagency initiatives over the next three years. Bush proposed the fund as part of his fiscal 2002 budget. The House of Representatives had proposed spending $20 million in the next fiscal year, but Wednesday night voted to drop that figure down to $5 million. "$5 million is insufficient, so we're working to get that increased," Forman said. But Forman also envisions a portfolio of e-government programs that will be funded out of agency technology budgets. The e-government fund will act as seed money to start up some initiatives, he said. Agencies are budgeted to spend about $45 billion on information technology in the next fiscal year, according to OMB. Rep. Tom Davis, R.-Va., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, also expressed concern over the diminished e-government fund. "We think that's too low an amount," said David Marin, Davis' spokesman. But he added that the fund would probably be increased again in conference committee. "This is…the middle of a nine-inning ball game," he said. Forman said those eager to see overnight results from e-government should not hold their breath. This is "ongoing, and we are going to take an incremental approach," he said. "I know that we can do this faster than a typical government exercise," he said, but "nothing on the Web works on the Big Bang Theory, and I will guarantee not to take us down that path."
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