Homeland security effort boosts e-gov initiatives

"E-gov"--shorthand for the information technology-based initiative intended to make it easier for individuals to access government services, while also cutting costs--has been expanding throughout the past decade, as the Internet has reached into the homes of rank-and-file citizens. But it is receiving heightened attention since the Sept. 11 attacks.

OMB is overseeing electronic government efforts at the federal level, and Mark Forman, associate director for information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, recently told a House subcommittee that e-government plans are integral to homeland security.

"Today, the federal government has only scratched the surface of the e-government potential," Forman told the subcommittee. "Basic management principles tell us that government operating costs will go down and effectiveness will go up if we make it simpler for citizens to get service."

The Bush administration has budgeted $50 million in fiscal 2003 for 24 e-government initiatives designed to eliminate redundant, non-integrated business operations and to make agencies more responsive to U.S. citizens.

But, to implement these changes, officials first must overcome several barriers-including conflicting agency cultures, as well as a lack of both resources and a trust in existing electronic systems, according to a recent GAO study.

For e-government to be effective, Forman said, the government must ensure that citizens feel safe using the Internet. He added that agencies would provide that sense of safety by incorporating privacy and security protections, providing public training and offering e-authentication.

The administration's proposed fiscal 2003 budget also outlines many problems with e-government implementation, grading each agency on its e-government performance. None of the agencies received a passing score, nine earned a yellow mark--which means that some of the criteria have been met--and 17 agencies rated a red score, indicating at least one serious flaw in its practices.

For example, the budget document contended that management of information technology investments is the Energy Department's "weakest link," and because the agency is consolidating its IT portfolio under a chief information officer, it was "impossible to evaluate compliance with e-government standards."

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also put the spotlight on protecting the nation's critical infrastructure, including its information technology systems. But a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office said that budget was not divided into specific components.

However, agencies charged with overseeing the nation's energy and food supplies are given funds to combat terrorism under the Bush budget. The budget allocates $451 million to the Health and Human Services Department for this purpose; the Agriculture Department would receive $195 million, and the Energy Department, $194 million.