Progress on e-gov projects varies widely

While the government is demonstrating progress in e-government, many of the initiatives championed by the Bush administration lack key oversight and that threatens the programs' potential benefits, according to a watchdog agency.

While many of the 24 e-government initiatives are showing tangible results, not all of them have made the same progress, Joel Willemssen, managing director of information technology at the General Accounting Office, said in a hearing before the House Government Reform Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee.

According to GAO's study, Willemssen said, about half of the agencies involved in the e-government initiatives have altered their cost estimates for the projects by more than 30 percent. Additionally, several of the agencies neglected to consider the needs of prospective e-government users and failed to adequately coordinate projects with their federal partners.

GAO also found "indications that important aspects of some of the initiatives had not been addressed and that for many of them, funding strategies and milestones were in a state of flux," he said. The fluctuations demonstrate a need for oversight, he added.

Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), acknowledged that many of the e-government projects face challenges. But he said they "are headed in the right direction."

Forman told the House panel that the administration has made "significant" progress. He noted, for example, that 17 agencies scored high marks in the first quarter of 2003 for their progress in reaching e-government goals outlined in President Bush's Management Agenda.

Additionally, dozens of Web sites have been launched to make it easier for citizens to find and obtain government services. New Web portals are helping businesses learn about and comply with regulations, and agencies are working to ease data-reporting requirements for businesses and state and local governments. And several cross-agency initiatives are helping to alleviate redundant government services and IT procurement.

OMB also began taking steps to ensure that faltering IT initiatives will not be funded unless they begin meeting goals and agencies can justify the need for the projects.

Forman said federal entities must improve efforts to modernize their business practices and not just automate them with new technologies. He also called on lawmakers to fully fund the president's fiscal 2004 budget request of $45 million for interagency e-government plans.

Patricia McGinnis, president and CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government, argued that the e-government agenda is in line with what citizens say they want. "What I see now is a lot of progress," she said. "[T]his cluster of initiatives centered around individuals ... businesses ... and state and local governments makes a lot of sense."