Government reform is a perennial favorite issue, but no administration has been able to fully implement its plans for overhauling the operations of the federal bureaucracy. However, President Bush has taken a different approach that officials and executives say bodes well for making government, including electronic government, more efficient and accessible to citizens.
White House Personnel Director Clay Johnson required all 500 of Bush's appointees to government agencies to get training in the President's Management Agenda before starting their jobs, making it clear that improving government management is a top priority. Johnson, who was Bush's college roommate, has been nominated as deputy director of management for OMB, placing him in charge of the agenda.
"This administration has a much more business-oriented approach" to government reform, said David McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government. "It's very metrics and cost-focused ... and I think there has been real progress."
The overall management agenda, implemented in 2001, targets five areas for change. They are: expanded e-government, which is defined as the use of Internet and Web-based approaches to delivering government services; strategic management of human capital; competitive sourcing; improved financial performance; and budget and performance integration.
Under the e-government agenda, which was unveiled in early 2002, the administration has set 24 project priorities, which touch on all other aspects of the management agenda, according to Norm Enger, e-government program director at the Office of Personnel Management. For example, OPM is consolidating payroll for 22 agencies and 1.8 million civilian employees, and it hopes to complete the project by September 2004. That consolidation also meets a government goal for improving human capital management.
"E-government is one of five components, and they are all inter-related," Enger said.
So far, implementation of the plan has been varied, with some agencies moving ahead more quickly than others. There are tangible signs of progress, with the operation of several governmentwide Web sites such as USAJobs, for listing all openings for federal jobs.
Cameron Findlay, deputy secretary at the Labor Department and chairman of the President's Management Council Committee on E-government, said that the process of implementing the agenda is a "monumental undertaking" and that the administration is probably "in the early stages" of what is likely to be a five- to 10-year process.
"This clearly will be a long hard slog," Findlay said, while adding, "We are announcing progress on initiatives every day."
Members of the private sector particularly like the governmentwide grading system, where progress can be charted publicly every quarter.
OMB Director Mitch Daniels required agencies in fiscal 2004 budget planning to provide business and management plans to justify funding. Agencies that failed to meet OMB requirements were listed on a chart at the Web site www.results.gov. Almost every agency failed or showed need for improvement when the chart was posted as part of Bush's budget proposal in February.
"The Web site creates a kind of subtle peer pressure between agencies," said John Kamensky, a senior fellow at IBM's Endowment for the Business of Government. "If an agency slips, everyone knows."
As the president's staff works to implement the agenda, challenges abound. The greatest is inertia among staff and resistance to cultural change, said Findlay and Enger. Until recently, agencies developed their own information technology budgets and Congress, through the 13 annual appropriations bills, approved them.
There has been reluctance on Capitol Hill to change that process. As the management agenda is implemented, agencies are finding that they must share their IT budgets with other agencies.
"The big rub and the huge challenge lies on Capitol Hill," said George Molaski, CEO of E-Associates and a former chief information officer for the Transportation Department. "Congress totally sees government in silos ... and they really need to take a more enterprise view of the government."
That "stovepipe" view, bureaucratic lingo that describes agencies planning their work independently rather than as part of a broader government agenda, may point to Congress' failure to provide the administration with full funding for its e-government initiative. Bush requested $45 million in fiscal 2003, which could be used to fund interagency e-government pilot projects, speeding the implementation process. Congress provided $5 million.
"Lack of congressional commitment is a concern," said Tom Gann, vice president and general manager of e-government initiatives at Siebel Systems, who has lobbied Congress to garner full funding for e-government. "These are valuable investments because they help prove concepts that can be pushed agencywide, so it's a valuable use of small amounts of money."
Labor's Findlay said that while it would be better to have full funding, the administration could function by pulling money from other projects.
"We thought the funding was a good idea," he said, "but it won't be the end of the world if we don't get it."