An errand on the road home
In the first installment of Simply Green, in the August 2007 issue of Public CIO, we authored a modified acrostic to define a framework for public-sector green campaigning that would extend the enterprise IT program's value, and fit with the most performance or accountability initiatives within state and local government. The working title is R2O2ADHome and its key attributes are:
1. Rules and Regulations: the environmental and conservation requirements that government imposes on itself and others;
2. Operational Optimization: running the IT that supports the mission-critical work of government cleaner, cooler and cheaper;
3. Acquisition and Disposal: based on the federal Energy Star program, making smarter buying choices and paying attention to what to do with e-waste; and
4. Home: the place where public employees must inevitably work near or work at, if there are to be meaningful reductions in government's carbon footprint.
Since August, the primary feedback has been that this framework is too broad and lacks the detail necessary to be a program of its own. That's exactly the point. Green is good, but its purposes won't be well served if it becomes the basis of all new programs administered by all new bureaucracies that exist from government's real work. It's a lesson hard learned in the 1990s, when a general concern for accountability and citizen service devolved into squabbling among disciples of competing quality, accountability and scorecard methodologies (or was that ideologies?).
Surely something green can grow on and through the 16 existing statewide value-for-taxpayer-money performance and accountability programs put in place over the last 15 years. For public-sector IT, integrating green into existing policies, plans and processes is another opportunity to avoid building tomorrow's stovepipes today.
Another new program and its paperwork would also increase the administrative burden on people who are just trying to get something done. One unintended consequence of Total Quality Management, the Baldrige National Quality Program, balanced scorecards and other noble-minded initiatives was to vastly increase the compliance overhead such that doers of deeds are becoming filers of forms. Government will be a shade or two short of green if the current concern for environmental sustainability compounds this imbalance.
R2O2ADHome's simplicity may be its greatest virtue. It fits within what government is already doing and tracking - or at least knows how to do these things, even if it's not actively doing them already. Put another way, public agencies can do better by the environment with only incremental effort by extending existing programs - not building new ones.
For its part, the IT industry is building new programs through consortia that try to find common ground among islands of proprietary green technologies. Among them are the Green Grid, which is developing metrics for measuring data center power consumption; and the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which focuses on lowering power consumption from the data center to commodity computing.
If collaboration among competitors isn't difficult enough, the Green Grid has taken lumps from analysts for being too narrow, too close to the commodity IT industry, and too distant from the customers of its goods and services. Gartner concluded it wasn't environmentally friendly to the innovation needed to solve the mother of intractable problems.
It's a cautionary tale, because staking a claim in what is, at root, public policy is to invite increased scrutiny on what one does and how, and what one isn't doing and why not.
IT analysts, environmentalists and many self-appointed watchblogs will all have their say - and no reason to expect consistency from such strange bedfellows there's about what should be done and how.
Add in public opinion (and maybe a little science if we are lucky), and it creates a sense of urgency for legislators who will inevitably try regulating the environmental impact of information and communication technology. That would be a great time to have a good story to tell - consider it another errand to run on the road home.
Paul W. Taylor was the deputy CIO of Washington state prior to joining the Center for Digital Government as its chief strategy officer, and has worked in the public and private sectors, the media and Washington's Digital Government Applications Academy.