Report praises federal e-gov efforts, but urges agencies to measure results

Federal agencies have implemented innovative e-government projects in the past year, but need to focus on measuring the success of those initiatives to win steady funding from Congress, according to a report released Wednesday by an Arlington, Va.-based think tank. The report, published by the Performance Institute, a think tank that studies performance-based management in government agencies, surveyed more than 3,000 federal information technology officials to see what their departments have done to meet the e-government goals outlined in the president's management agenda. Among other things, the agenda directs agencies to make government information and Web sites more accessible to the public.

Mark Forman, associate director for e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, spoke at an event for the report's release, praising the results of the report. Forman pointed to as an example of an initiative that has already produced some tangible results. Launched in September 2000, Firstgov allows users to search for information from more than 51 million federal and state Web sites and facilitates online business transactions with the government.

The Performance Institute report also recognized five agencies-the IRS, Small Business Administration, National Science Foundation and the Labor and Navy Departments-for making strides in e-government over the past year. Labor's initiative, for example, allows citizens to determine whether they are eligible for 133 government benefit programs, combining information from 11 agencies. The Small Business Administration drew praise for developing a Web portal where small businesses across the country can locate information to help them understand and comply with government regulations.

But the report indicates that most of the approximately $50 billion in 2002 information technology expenditures was "not justified by mission-aligned performance measures. This practice represents a 'high risk' business practice that could result in failed information technology projects and losses to the taxpayer," the report said.

The 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act and the e-government initiative in the president's management agenda require agencies to use performance measures to justify IT costs and to manage and evaluate the success of e-government projects.

Forman agreed with the report's conclusion that agencies need to focus more on defining successful outcomes of e-government projects that are "concrete and measurable." In addition to identifying ways to measure performance, agencies need to concentrate on fixing underlying technology problems, not merely "paving cow paths," Forman said. They also need to make sure they do not buy redundant programs or technology and should work on improving program management, Forman added. To date, few e-government projects have been delivered on time and on budget, he said.

A failure to implement adequate security measures to protect against hackers is also holding up many e-government projects, Forman said. Agencies often blame poor security and ensuing delays on a lack of funding to install complex safeguards. But security is really a "nuts and bolts" issue and a question of whether agencies are taking the right steps to meet security certification requirements, he added.

The agencies surveyed in the report praised the Bush administration and OMB's leadership in encouraging e-government initiatives, but said they would like to see more guidance from OMB on meeting the goals outlined in the president's management agenda.

And, according to Forman, federal employees are generally receptive to information technology projects. "They want a simpler, more modern way to get their work done."

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