As the longest-serving cabinet-level CIO in the federal government, I have the unique opportunity to look back over nearly eight years and reflect on the many e-government successes achieved at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and how we were able to attain them under the leadership of Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. I am often asked how DOL developed, launched and expanded our e-government services, so here are my views on how we succeeded, as well as some background and key initiatives that have been implemented at the DOL.
Keys to Success
With the launch of the President Management Agenda (PMA) in 2001 by President George W. Bush - and again with his signing of the E-Government Act of 2002 - the Bush administration called for improving the management and performance of the federal government through a more citizen-centered, results-oriented approach.
In February 2003, we responded when U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam; Mark Forman, then-Office of Management and Budget (OMB), associate director of IT and e-government; then-Deputy Secretary Cameron Findlay; and I joined Secretary Chao as she electronically launched the DOL's E-Government Strategic Plan, remarking that "our plan provides the blueprint for transforming the Labor Department into a 'digital department' [and] leading the way into the 21st century by offering American citizens an easy way to interact with the federal government."
- Leadership Support. While our agency recognized that leadership starts at the top, we also realized that the characteristics of leadership exist at all levels of the organization. For instance, executive-level deliberations and information sharing are conducted through departmental boards, which have proven crucial to the success of our departmentwide integration of major management systems. Together these boards - such as the Technical Review Board, which is chaired by DOL's deputy CIO with the task of overseeing and managing the department's major IT assets - have provided the infrastructure and leadership necessary for DOL's continued achievement of goals under the increasing expectations of the PMA.
- Clear Objectives. There's no substitute for clarity in our guidance and information. We ensured that IT information and our e-government strategic plan were in place and used at all levels within the organization. These efforts at clear objectives that were supported through our increased oversight of DOL's IT budget, resulting in better control of the agency's IT programs, which changed how DOL does business. In 2001 we implemented an "IT crosscut" - a mechanism for funding IT development investments that let the CIO review agency proposals for IT projects that were proposed to benefit DOL as a whole. In turn, it also let the CIO reject proposals that duplicated other agency efforts or weren't in line with the overall IT strategy. Through the scrutiny of the OMB and Congress, the IT crosscut survives and remains key to the way we continue to conduct business.
- Employee Involvement. Though clear direction remains central to our ongoing efforts, it's DOL's talented IT staff that has turned direction into results. Consistent input from - and dialog with - our IT team is a strong component of our successes. The same goes for DOL's IT contractors. And it all ends with accountability: measuring the manner and degree of effectiveness with which we deliver IT leadership and support.
This is captured in employee performance plans that articulate the expected results. For our contractor colleagues, it's detailed in performance-based contracts that contain clear metrics. When it comes to managing contracts, I like to say that if you don't have accountability on both sides, there's no one to call if things go wrong. This is especially true on the sometimes complex contracts that support federal IT operations.
Initiative Reaps Awards
To build an electronic infrastructure that was more citizen-centered and results-oriented - and that gave citizens the freedom to act upon key information - DOL launched two Web sites: www.GovBenefits.gov and www.DisabilityInfo.gov. Both were designed to serve as one-stop, online resources for the public, and both started as coordinated efforts among many federal agencies. They have grown and matured over the past five-plus years.
Both Web sites have been recognized with several awards, such as Government Executive Magazine's Gracie Award for Excellence in Government (GovBenefits.gov in 2002); one of Harvard University's top 50 programs in its Innovations in American Government Awards (GovBenefits.gov in 2007); and DisabilityNetwork.com's Web Content Managers Best Practice Peer Award (DisabilityInfo.gov in 2005). In fiscal 2004, DOL achieved green status and progress scores on the OMB Expanded Electronic Government PMA scorecard, which have been maintained for all but one quarter ever since.
Moving Toward Enterprise IT
In February 2002, one of the first departmentwide IT efforts we undertook was to develop and implement a common e-mail system, which replaced nine e-mail networks and used standardized e-mail addresses and IT capabilities for all DOL employees.
We also standardized DOL's word-processing package, which led to the consolidation of multiple software licensing contracts into one departmentwide enterprise agreement. We created a common look and feel for all DOL.gov Web pages and developed a single departmentwide e-procurement system. We also reduced by 78 percent the amount of toll-free numbers - and their related costs - used by DOL.
These efforts have not gone without notice. DOL received the Performance Institute's Top E-Gov Award (2002) and the President's Quality Award for Expanded Electronic Government (2006). From fiscal 2002 to 2008, Labor's discretionary budget decreased by 6.7 percent, but during the same period we achieved moderate increases in IT funding that led to DOL's achievement of these IT efficiencies.
2009 and Beyond: More "E" in the DOL
In January 2009, we will help usher in a new presidential administration. As the nation prepares to move forward under new leadership, we at the department are pleased to hand over an agency that has changed - for the better - the way we do business.
But more important is what these expanded e-government initiatives mean to taxpayers: a more electronic, citizen-centered DOL. It also shows what can be accomplished when you combine a results-oriented secretary of labor with the hard work of talented, focused federal employees.