For all levels of government, sharing IT resources across agency and even jurisdictional lines is becoming a major trend, and the next evolutionary stage of e-government initiatives. While some state and local governments have moved in this direction over the last few years, the federal government has the greatest challenges.

"It's a question of scale," said John Sindelar, deputy associate administrator at the Office of Governmentwide Policy in the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). "The scale and complexity of the federal government make it different."

According to Sindelar, e-government evolved as technology created new opportunities to cut across organizational boundaries and responsibilities. "That evolution started in the '70s with legacy systems, then through the Internet where you had a thousand Web sites bloom, to where we are today -- where sharing technology and developing a shared service environment really isn't a technological problem so much as a change management problem," he said.

Treating IT projects primarily as a change management issue was learned early in the federal government's e-government initiatives championed by Mark Forman, former administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

"I still remember the presentation slide where we identified the agencies across the top and the number of systems relative to various major business lines the government is involved in," explained Sindelar, project leader on the Quicksilver task force, which led e-government development. "When you added up the number of systems related to functionality across the various agencies, it ended up at 478. And that wasn't all the systems, just across government, so we titled the slide, 'The Federal Enterprise Architecture That Isn't.'

"The Quicksilver effort looked at point solutions where there could be a transition to a more centralized functionality -- ones that offered the biggest payoff to the system," Sindelar added.

Denis Gusty, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions at GSA, spent almost two years as project manager for GovBenefits at the Department of Labor, the lead agency on that project. "It was painful at times," he said. "Someone in my position -- managing a cross-agency project like GovBenefits -- must wear multiple hats. You have to be a program manager. You have to be a salesman. And a lot of the time, the issues had nothing to do with technology."

Sindelar emphasized much the same thing. "In the days of Quicksilver in 2001 and 2002, this was viewed as an IT initiative," he said. "In fact, we are really talking about a business transformation. So in the sense that it was categorized early on as an IT initiative, it tended to have the attention and focus only of the CIO community."

So now the federal government's 2004 Lines of Business initiative, the next phase in consolidating functions across agencies, is not so narrowly branded with an IT label. While it is part of the Federal Enterprise Architecture program, it seeks to develop business-driven, common solutions for the six lines of business that span federal government: financial management, human resources management, grants management, federal health architecture, case management and IT security.

Shared Service Logic

On paper, the idea behind Lines of Business is simple. Rather than numerous agencies maintaining separate systems for payroll, financial management and human resource management functions, why not consolidate these into a few systems or "centers of excellence" operated by select agencies or outside vendors that pass due diligence criteria? These providers must offer industrial-strength security and capability to meet the customer agencies' requirements.

To maintain a competitive edge, the goal is about four separate systems for each function. "On the payroll side, which is a simple example, 80 percent of the government is funded by four payroll providers," said Sindelar. "It is a huge migration, I think, down

Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor