President George W. Bush signed the E-Government Act in 2002, setting into motion numerous initiatives aimed at jumpstarting and unifying the federal government's multitude of online programs and projects.

The law authorized $345 million in spending over four years to make federal government serve citizens, businesses and government itself more efficiently and effectively. The act required privacy impact statements for new IT systems, overhauled the federal government's online portal , enhanced the use of electronic signatures, and directed a host of other changes aimed at breaking down agency silos and improving citizen-centered, cross-agency and performance-based strategies.

The law also set up the Office of E-Government, which is headed by Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-government, within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). As Uncle Sam's point man on e-government, Forman must somehow juggle modernizing government operations, while coping with an aging work force and providing adequate IT security. It's a tall task, but already things are beginning to happen.

This isn't Forman's first stint working for the government. He was a staff member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and an analyst at the General Accounting Office. More recently, he worked in the private sector, first as a principal with IBM Global Services and then as vice president in Unisys Global Industries, before returning to work in the Bush administration

Speaking in March before the House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy and Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Committee on Government Reform, Forman told Congress, "The federal government has made significant progress toward becoming a transformed and more productive 'e-enterprise,' focusing on how IT is managed at an enterprise level within and across agencies. Since the president proposed 24 e-government initiatives in the 2003 budget, 19 have already delivered significant capabilities and are showing results."

This spring, Forman spoke with Public CIO about some federal e-government policies and initiatives.

PUBLIC CIO: The United States has scored very high on a number of e-government reports and surveys that rank countries globally, and yet America's e-government program is relatively young with the president signing the E-Government Act just last year. Why the strong showing?

MARK FORMAN: The short answer is we've got a terrific team of people in the federal government focused on it.

Here's a more sophisticated answer. The other countries took a different approach than us. The federal government approach was to get everything up on the Web and then make sense of it. As a result, we've got over 22,000 Web sites, 30 million Web pages and over 80 million documents.

Our problem wasn't getting online, it was becoming citizen-centered and focusing on results. Most of the other countries said they would figure out how to do business smartly online first, and once they figure it out, then put it online. Here in the U.S., you have to remember that when the administration came in 2001, an awful lot of stuff was already online. Not a lot of transactions, but an awful lot of information. Other countries took a much more methodical approach to moving online, so it's information and services online.

PUBLIC CIO: What does President Bush bring to the table in terms of leadership and direction for federal e-government initiatives?

FORMAN: He brings the essentials of leadership: vision, focus, resources and teamwork. One of the things that encouraged me to return to government, and one of the things the president brings, is the notion that e-government is part of government reform. The president and his advisers have brought the notion that you have to manage the federal government. You don't just throw money at problems or have thousands of initiatives like [Al Gore's] National Performance Review.

The president came in and said, "We have to be citizen-centered and focused on results, not agency-centered." That is so important to e-government because at the end of the day, that's what e-government is all about: taking the citizen's view and figuring what's important.

The next question is, "How do you leverage this IT investment?" You can do that in the back office, so a lot of this is not about putting this on the Web. It's largely how you do your work to be more productive. In addition, there are five elements to the president's management agenda, all of which are integral -- if we focus on them, we will be much more productive as a government. Those five elements are e-government, human capital, financial management reform, performance-based budgeting and competitive sourcing.

You already know about e-government. The human capital element has a lot to do with work force retirement and government modernization. Financial management reform and performance-based budgeting fit with the president's concept of results, using management tools to make e-business work. Competitive sourcing has to do with aggregating and then outsourcing the management of content, as the IRS has done with its e-filing program, rather than letting each agency buy its own version [of an application].

We also did this with e-training. Rather than build the content agency by agency, we used a business outsourcing model. We aggregated and outsourced because the content was out there. The problem was that each agency was buying its own version. By consolidating and outsourcing, we went to a cost of pennies or less per student per course. We were able to train tens of thousands of people who otherwise would not have gotten training.

You have to think about the stuff in a different way when you go into e-government. It tends to be cheaper, but requires a different operational model across agencies and tends to touch on other elements of a government reform agenda. So you have to be focused. The president has done that by giving us the five elements on which to focus.

PUBLIC CIO: Do you oversee and control e-government initiatives at the agency level?

FORMAN: My responsibilities are those normally associated with a CIO in a conglomerate. We literally took my responsibilities from a GAO report on best practices for CIOs. I oversee; provide guidance, direction, vision; and most importantly, I provide a process. The key elements of the process are capital planning and enterprise architecture.

With the capital-planning process, we force agencies to treat IT as an investment. So we put in place a business case process. The other element is the federal enterprise architecture framework. Using it, agencies can find out where they can partner with other agencies to simplify delivery to citizens, to unify investments and leverage consolidation [and possible outsourcing].

We tie this back to the governance structure through our scorecard. Each of the five management agenda items has a scorecard. My staff works with the budget examiners to score each agency on their performance, in my case, for e-government.

We score the agencies on their progress, status, and what's their trend toward the future. The e-government score is based on whether the department is modernizing. Do they have a modernization blue print? Are they using business cases? Do they have a process in place to manage IT as an investment? Do they have project management skills, and are they focused on IT security? We do a gap analysis every year to see if they are making progress.

We also grade them on three of the four citizen-centered groupings across e-government: government-to-citizen and government-to-business. The latter is where the bulk of federal transactions really lie. We look to see if the agencies are leveraging XML and an e-business approach to communicating with business or are they just requiring an electronic version of paper. They have to move to communicating with business electronically and minimizing the requirement for rules and regulations.

The third grouping, government-to-government, is the collaboration between federal, state and local [government], which has never been greater -- both in needs and initiatives. The fourth area is internal efficiencies and effectiveness within federal government: leveraging e-business enterprise applications for work force recruitment, financial management, procurement, supply chain management.

To get to green [on the scorecard] an agency has to be part of the solution in three of those four citizen groupings. If an agency is not serious -- if they are either lying to us or not committed to achieving the elements of that scorecard -- they will be downgraded to red. That gets discussed at Cabinet meetings. People, including CIOs, have been removed from their jobs for not partnering or not making progress.

So in a nutshell, there is a lot of focus on the management agenda, and we link it up to the president and the budget decision. That's my role.

PUBLIC CIO: In the United Kingdom, there's been concern raised about e-government's slow adoption rate among citizens. What has been the fed's experience with its e-government adoption rate?

FORMAN: We're following best practices. The only explanation I have for why we are driving so much traffic is a mix between the fact that we are very open and we use the Internet for communications with the citizenry as part of the president's agenda, and that we have it linked in. We don't look at e-government as separate from the rest of the government reform agenda.

When we go live with something, it simplifies and unifies something that's already out there. For example, Regulations.gov is a Web site that's the first generation of the online rule-making initiative. We started seeing data that the American public really wanted to be involved in policy-making and with decisions that affected them. With the Internet, you don't have to wait for an election to do that.

In 1996, the Federal Register [the official daily publication containing the government's proposed rules, notices and presidential documents] distributed 20,000 paper copies daily. By 2001, [when the regulations went online] that dropped to 15,000 daily, but we had 65 million downloads from the Federal Register online. We now have over 90 percent of federal rules and regulations online for comment. So we did it faster, at a fraction of the cost and made it simpler for the citizen. We've had similar results with other Web sites. As soon as we go online with something more than information, with an interactive type tool, we immediately seem to get hits in the range of 100,000 or more.

We don't view the Internet as something unique, but as an accepted form of communication with citizens in the Bush administration. So we continue to grow the number of Web sites because we've accepted that the way you communicate in mass with the public is using the Internet.

PUBLIC CIO: There's a trend among some governments to look beyond e-government as electronic service delivery and view it as a relationship with citizens and businesses. What's your view on the role customer relationship management [CRM] should play with e-government?

FORMAN: You have to do customer segmentation. You have to tailor strategies to the citizen. That's part and parcel of what President Bush was talking about [when he said he wanted] citizen-centered government. So CRM is very important.

CRM is all about process. The technology is a facilitator. The question is, can you make your processes matter? As I look at processes across agencies, it largely comes down to cycle time for us. Improving the quality of decisions is the second area. But the most common measure is how fast can the government respond to citizens' needs. How fast can we make a decision?

The CRM approach applies when the citizen uses the Web and when government uses the Internet for e-business approaches to respond to citizen needs. The greatest place we see the latter is in homeland security and in the G-to-G [government-to-government] arena.

PUBLIC CIO: How do you ensure that agencies use standardized tools and engines as they build their e-government solutions?

FORMAN: It's very much a carrot and stick approach. I have two things under my control to make this work. One is overseeing the money within OMB. That's why we need the business cases. I have visibility and control over what agencies spend. It's key. The other is the dot-gov domain. Nobody can put stuff up on the Web without my knowing about it. For example, e-recruitment. Most labor markets have moved to an online marketplace. Different agencies have realized it and began building their own. In the Department of Defense, I found eight recruiting Web sites, including two in the Navy. Each cost between $5 [million] and $8 million. So we have to apply economies of scale and have to ask is this a good investment of our money?

We have done a lot of work on a component-based, enterprise architecture to facilitate that. We use the CIO Council. They understand it and want to team together to provide the framework to accelerate that.

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.