'Cultural mindset' of employees called barrier to e-gov progress

The "cultural mindset" of federal workers poses a major challenge to implementing online government services, some officials said on Wednesday.

Yet the leaders of several Bush administration projects designed to ease citizen access to government services told a group of industry and government attendees at the Industry Advisory Council's quarterly e-government meeting that governing structures are in place to help move those projects forward.

In 2001, the administration unveiled 24 projects designed to increase online access to government, design services around the needs of Americans and seize new technologies to make agencies function more efficiently.

One project called for a central Internet site for information on and applications to receive some 600 federal grant programs. So far, the project is slated to meet the first of two major goals by posting comprehensive information on nearly all grants on the new Grants.gov Web site.

Charles Havekost, program manager of the Grants.gov project at the Health and Human Services Department, said a key challenge has been getting workers involved in the various grant programs to begin thinking about how their programs are the same and how those similarities can be leveraged to ease the ability of citizens to apply for federal funding.

"Each agency has spent a lot of time focusing on how the programs are different from programs at other agencies," he said. "We've had to come in and turn that on its head and say, Let's think about what's the same.' That's probably been the most difficult discussion."

Oscar Morales, who is overseeing the creation of a consolidated online system for federal rulemaking at the Environmental Protection Agency, agreed. "Folks tend to think in terms of their own agency, " he said. "That's a big cultural thing to overcome."

Part of the problem, said Sara Hebert, the e-government manager at the Transportation Security Administration, is that funding often drives that mentality because federal programs receive money when they are deemed unique.

But panelists noted that the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is leading the overall e-government drive, is seeking to remedy that problem by allocating funds to agencies that can work together to consolidate similar programs and jointly leverage their resources.

Despite cultural barriers within the bureaucracy, e-government managers said they are moving forward, establishing new mechanisms to govern their projects and to ensure that the creation of consolidated services will survive long term.

Grants.gov, for example, has an executive board composed of high-level executives from the federal agencies participating in the project. Other programs, including an initiative to consolidate the way the government manages assets, are organized centrally.

Havekost noted that funding is still an issue for Grants.gov. The executive board has approved a funding mechanism, he said, but several participating agencies have yet to contribute their shares.