Hope still alive for underfunded e-government projects

Twenty-two technology projects tapped by the Office of Management and Budget last week as part of President Bush's e-government agenda are severly underfunded but are a step in the right direction, observers say. OMB's E-Government Task Force, created in August, reviewed more than 260 proposals before selecting the 22 projects, which will be paid for from an interagency e-government fund proposed in the President's budget. The President had requested $100 million to fund e-government programs. But, he got only $5 million in the House and Senate versions of the Treasury-Postal spending bill. Paul Brubaker, president of e-government Solutions Inc, a subsidiary of e-commerce technology provider Commerce One and the former deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department, called the awards a catalyst for future e-government initiatives. "There isn't enough money to do this in the…way that we would like to," Brubaker said of the drastically reduced e-government budget, but "this is how things begin. Here you've got a structure, and hopefully you'll be able to plug the money into it." George Molaski, the former chief information officer of the Transportation Department, called OMB's move "a big step in the right direction," but said the small amount of funds allotted was "ridiculous." Molaski said that the congressional appropriations process makes it difficult, if not impossible, to secure cross-agency funding initiatives; therefore programs run the risk of becoming redundant. However, he said that the 22 e-government projects chosen might enable agencies to beef up programs that could be used governmentwide. For example, Treasury's online rulemaking management program, one of the 22 selected, could be used by other agencies, rather than having them spend money to develop similar initiatives, Molaski said. Molaski added that the 22 projects represented an effort to break up redundancies in the federal bureaucracy by encouraging more interagency cooperation. "This is a first initiative at trying to stop all these little fiefdoms," he said. Roger Baker, executive vice president for networks and telecommunications at systems integration firm CACI and the former Commerce Department CIO, said that backing from the President's Management Council would be key to the success of the e-government projects. Baker noted that with the publicity surrounding successful e-government initiatives, more and more agencies will be looking to the 22 projects as examples of how to deploy successful projects. Baker said the $5 million fund might spur other agencies to match funds put in place by the lead agencies on each project, especially since many of the projects involve teams of agencies. The General Services Administration, for example, is the lead agency on four projects, each of which includes five to seven member agencies, said Mary Mitchell, program executive for electronic government policy at GSA. John Sindelar, GSA's deputy associate administrator for governmentwide policy, said agencies shouldn't even consider the $5 million e-government fund as a source for the projects. "That's not going to begin to pay for these initiatives," he said. Rather, Sindelar said money will come from existing agency budgets, and it will be up to the lead agency to bring other agencies in as business cases are developed and submitted to OMB in December. "It certainly forces more . . . collaboration among the agencies," said Chris Fornecker, GSA's chief technology officer, who said cooperation would encourage agencies to work on common approaches to specific technology issues rather than devising redundant operations. OMB issued a press release last week describing the e-government initiative and naming the 22 projects, but has declined to provide descriptions of the projects.