Reprinted with permission from the February issue of Public CIO

It would be an exaggeration to say e-government was a front-burner issue in the recent presidential election. Just because Jim Lehrer failed to ask presidential candidates their views of consolidated line-of-business initiatives, however, doesn't mean e-government won't be an important issue during the next four years. Indeed, the opportunity for transforming government and society through information technology has never been greater. As the Bush administration begins its second term, what e-government initiatives will we likely see? What should the administration and Congress do? How can government take the next steps to drive e-government transformation? Before answering these questions, it's worth looking at e-government's current state.

Where Are We Now?

During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush promised businesslike efficiency for government and proposed several e-government initiatives, including creation of a CIO position and a $100 million annual interagency e-government fund. Once in office, the president appointed Mark Forman CIO of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and charged him with directing e-government efforts. Forman championed several new initiatives, including development of 25 enterprisewide projects. The administration also continued and expanded Clinton administration efforts to build a federal enterprise architecture (FEA). The new administration established reference models in each of the five architecture layers (performance, business, service component, data and technical), trained OMB program managers to use the FEA and instituted budget review processes based on FEA compliance.

While the administration took positive steps, overall progress has been slower than many expected, especially considering many of the 25 projects technically were not very demanding. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Initiatives Sponsored by the OMB Have Made Mixed Progress, of the 91 objectives the administration identified for its e-government initiatives, the GAO found only 33 were fully or substantially achieved by March 2004. According to the administration's own management scorecard, only five agencies met established criteria for success in e-government. Nine agencies received failing grades, and another 12 scored "mixed results."

There are two main reasons for the wavering progress: lack of consistent leadership and the inability to consolidate IT funding around lines of business. Although Sen. Joseph Lieberman initially proposed in his E-Government Act of 2002 a top-level CIO who would preside over the entire federal government as either a deputy director of the OMB or as head of the new Office of Information Policy within the OMB, the administration -- partly because of resistance from top OMB officials -- created a lower-level position within the OMB. This associate administrator must work with the OMB's budget side each time she wants to drive a consolidated and holistic process.

Although the federal government's $60 billion IT budget is more than sufficient to build citizen-centric e-government solutions, the OMB lacks adequate resources to manage this portfolio effectively. To do the job, the OMB must:

1) conduct the trade-off analyses to assess the overlap and redundancy of agency systems;

2) determine which systems provide the greatest return to citizens and which should be scaled to support other agencies; and

3) reapportion funds and management authority to evolve systems and deliver service using a cross-servicing model.

Ultimately e-government is about establishing a new governance structure for horizontal and vertical process integration. On this critical point, the administration has done little to persuade Congress that cross-agency programs are more effective than the current committee-by-committee funding structure, or to address congressional concerns that the money was being spent poorly. In negotiations with the Senate on the E-Government Act of 2002, the administration agreed to ask for $100 million in fiscal 2004 for the interagency fund. However, it has asked for just $100 million for the past three years. The administration also failed to get buy-in from its own deputy secretaries.

Absent a significant push for change

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson  |  Contributing Writer