Agencies seek industry input on e-gov plan

The federal government is calling on the technology industry to help lay the foundation for the Bush administration's e-government plan.

The General Services Administration on Tuesday hosted an "industry day" to update companies on where the government is on its e-authentication project--one of the 24 e-government initiatives approved by the President's Management Council. The Office of Management and Budget and GSA are spearheading the initiatives.

The e-authentication project includes the development of a Web site that would provide a standard way of authenticating the identities of firms and individuals who conduct business with the government. Use of the gateway would be voluntary for agencies.

Government officials said citizens need to trust the government to put their interests first, particularly in the electronic age. "It's not just about building trust; it's about becoming citizen-centered as a government," said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for information technology and e-government.

Forman said the Government Paperwork Elimination Act is helping the push toward Web-based government transactions. But the problem is that various agencies are signing separate contracts to put services online, resulting in a hodge-podge of technology systems. The process also costs more than using a single system to execute all similar transactions.

"It's not that we're not online. ... The question is, how smart are we as we bring this to bear for the public," Forman said, adding that e-authentication is just one part of the government's computer-security efforts.

But industry plays a vital role in the government's efforts, officials said.

"It's very important we don't embark on a path in a vacuum," said Steve Timchak, director of the e-authentication project at GSA.

Timchak said a request for information on potential next steps in the project will be issued "very soon." The government will look for industry input on acquisition, funding, interoperability and the privacy implications, among other things. Technology, privacy and policy are the "three legs" to e-authentication, Timchak said. "We have to move forward in concert" on the issues.

Although some groups have expressed concern that government could have too much information about private citizens it works with, David Temoshok stressed that the e-authentication gateway is not designed to issue identification credentials, collect personal information or maintain a repository of information. Temoshok, the public-key infrastructure policy manager for GSA, said the gateway will establish risk and assurance levels for multiple credentials.

Temoshok noted, however, that there is much more to putting government services online. He said the real issue is not whether the technology exists to execute the e-government initiatives but whether the government can gain the public's trust to efficiently and effectively conduct transactions while protecting privacy and allowing a free flow of information.

"This is a cultural change," he said. "This isn't low-hanging fruit here."

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