Toppling The Stovepipes

CIOs at all levels are seeking to liberate processes mired in the Industrial Age.

NEARLY 40 FEDERAL, state and local CIOs recently convened in Baltimore at NASIRE's annual meeting to establish common ground for intergovernmental cooperation and electronic government. Participating were 12 federal agencies, 20 states and representatives of three local governments and the National Association of Counties. Don Pearson, publisher of Government Technology magazine, moderated the roundtable and challenged participants to look at the goal of electronic government, the obstacles to meeting those goals and strategies that lead to action and accomplishment. A transcript of the procceding follows. Statements were edited for length.


Don Pearson: What do we need to aim for with electronic government initiatives? What are we trying to accomplish and how much can we get done in a two-hour roundtable?

Jim Flyzik: We're moving toward a customer-centric government. We are competing as a country with the rest of the world's governments. This will move into physical changes in government, [and] structure of government will change over time to be more productive. We need to work together on a functional basis rather than on an agency-by-agency basis. The key thing we need to talk about today is how do we make the transition seamless with all levels of government? We don't want our citizens walking around with dozens of smart cards in their pockets for federal programs, state programs and local programs. We need partnerships, collaboration, sharing of best practices, knowledge management across all levels of government.

Aldona Valicenti: We as CIOs can enable the government through IT. That's our business plan. We have done it by sharing best practices. We are in a different continuum from state to state. Some of us, like Steve [Kolodney] in Washington, are there already, and are maintaining their pace, having won the Digital State Award for the third year. There are other states that have followed very quickly, and others are learning. That is our common ground.

Steve Jennings: What are the service metrics to the citizen? That's our goal -- not internally how well we run our departments. What we're looking for is how much garbage did we collect, how well did you answer the questions, where are we going with potholes? And what functionality can we provide? We need to change how we evaluate what we do. Then we will have public officials driving that because that's how they will be evaluated.


Pearson: Is there a mandate to do this? Who or what are the drivers?
"We are competing with the rest of the world. The rest of the world is moving quickly, and we are competing as a country with the rest of the world's governments." -- Jim Flyzik, CIO, Department of Treasury

Steve Kolodney: For the first time in my memory, the pressure is coming from outside instead of inside, and that translates into political pressure, and political pressure translates into action and certainly at the state level, that's happened. There used to be a line that said: "If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we ...," and you would just fill in anything you wanted. I think we are getting to the point where the citizens are saying: "If I can buy a book from Amazon why can't I ...?"

Wendy Rayner: I believe we do have a mandate from the citizens. We all know what it is: to put a digital government before our citizens. I just had a survey done and 80 percent of the citizens of New Jersey want it and they want it right away. So that is my mandate right now, to put citizens before government, and that is what this forum is about -- how we do that.

Randy Murphy: I come to you as a representative of the National Association of Counties that represents 2,100 of the 3,000 counties out there. Local government is the last mile. We are the reality check. When our elected officials go to the grocery store, residents talk to them. I'm from Lake County, Ill. -- between Chicago and Milwaukee. There are 600,000 residents, which is not a huge number, but there are 267 independent governmental organizations within the 400 square miles of Lake County. Intergovernmental cooperation is imperative. It is the only way to present a seamless approach to delivering services. Interoperability, intergovernmental cooperation [and] seamlessness are the three themes we need to focus on. We need leadership from the state and federal government. We feel like we're alone, because you guys are up there talking to each other. But you're not talking to us. We'd like to be part of the process.


Pearson: Is the timing right for intergovernmental cooperation? What are the opportunities?

Alan Balutis: At the federal level, in 11 states, and in God knows how many local and county governments, we are going to go through elections. This is a time of change and a time of opportunity. We will switch out 1,200 to 1,500 senior political appointees and I think that is an opportunity to go through and identify key positions, not just CIOs. And we give them two tests: Do they get technology; do they understand the potential and the opportunity? And second, we tell them we are going to reward and recognize them not just for what they do in their own cells, but in these cross-governmental, cross-agency arenas. We need to move from giving these ideas lip service to giving them passionate lip service. The technology is there, the examples of efficiency from the private sector are there, there is leadership at all levels, legislatures have supported this: We're seeing the rise of digital citizens. The stars are aligned as they will be at no other point to take advantage of this.

John Spotila: The opportunity is to get away from old-style stovepipe approaches. We need to streamline to integrate processes so we don't just automate obsolete approaches. This is a big challenge. It's one of the reasons building up this infrastructure and laying the foundation for future work is so important. It is a great cultural change. This is a leadership challenge for our organizations across the board, not just for the technology sector.

Carolyn Purcell: We have this wonderful opportunity to let the citizens redesign government. Citizens don't know and they don't care where the services are delivered. As long as we can present a facade that says this is an open, seamless government, it will force a regional transformation in the back rooms. We have an opportunity to drive that transformation.

Jennings: Our goal is to enable these silos to intercommunicate, to take those silos and topple them over. But the reality is we need elected officials and those silo owners to come to the table and say, "Maybe we can erase our boundaries. Maybe we can go beyond our structure, talk about a collaborative approach and let technologists enable that collaborative approach."


Pearson: What are some of the obstacles we need to overcome in order to create this cooperation for electronic government?

John Callahan: One is security, and the second is service. FirstGov is up and we're going to find we need more interactive Web sites and we're going to have to redeploy our workforce to do 24 by 7. The third is money. People want service but they don't want to spend money for it. I think we're going to get to the next level and we're going to need a lot of money to build up the infrastructure.

George Molaski: One of the problems is that techies, talk to techies and techies don't own the business process. When we get the programmatic people espousing the same things that CIOs espouse, then we'll see a big emphasis and move forward. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. We need to do a better job of bringing in the programmatic people and people who own the business process.

Rayner: I defy any of us to say we're really doing process reengineering and transformation the way we'd like to. That's our challenge for the future. We need to work together; we need to get into some small groups and wrestle with some of these problems and begin now. I think we have the mandate, I believe we have the will, but I haven't seen us take it on. And I want to see us, hopefully today, begin carving that new vision. We today are the people in the position to make that happen.

Alisoun Moore: I've done internal process redesign -- it is painful. It takes incredible management time and effort to change internal processes. You will get resistance every step of the way. I am looking for a better way to do this because if we do that kind of change that way, it will take forever. Can we use Web-based technologies to link directly to back-end systems? Can we leave the process as it is and directly deliver services to citizens? Can we use this great infrastructure called the Internet to link local, state and federal systems? We use tapes now from our prisons to the Social Security system, so we don't take prisoners' Social Security benefits. Why can't we do that through a secure Internet link? And why can't we do that with all the other systems we share?

Molaski: In industry, a business manager gets rewarded if they do things better, faster, cheaper. If you do things cheaper in government, you usually get your money taken away from you. We really need to change that portion of the reward structure in government.


Pearson: Forrester Research recently interviewed 45 federal, state and local government agencies and reported that electronic government services will take six years to arrive. Why is electronic government moving so slowly?

Kolodney: I think we are moving more quickly than our organizations can handle, both culturally and organizationally. I think the progress has been remarkable. And even though Forrester says we won't get to the transformational stages till 2006, they don't understand the platforms that are being built to set the stage for real change over the next years. I think we are moving very quickly and that at the state, local and federal level, citizens are being served much better than they ever have before.

Moore: I'm not so sure it's moving that slowly. You're now starting to see words like "online services to citizens" creep into the jargon of elected officials. That will create tremendous growth in the future. The citizen doesn't care where the service comes from. What they want when they get online is to fill out one income tax form that does local, state and federal at one time.

Murphy: In Lake County, one big issue that concerns the citizens is congestion. On road construction and road issues, it's five years before they agree to it, [longer] before they are driving on it. I believe the pace that we've acted on from a technology point of view is enormous. When I talk to municipalities and counties, e-gov is a 12-month effort and Y2K helped us with that. But Y2K is something that IT people went off and fixed because they were given some money and some charge to do it. In this process we need the business process and we need the leadership.

Paul Brubaker: Speed is all relative. We've been used to chugging away at a glacial pace. The rest of the world is moving at 60 mph and we pat ourselves on the back for going 10 mph. The kind of process change that will allow us to transform government in the way that we really envision is going to require a fundamental change in the way we think, organize, finance and hire people. Our processes are antiquated. They do not serve the best interests of the public. This is not about technology. This is about process change.


Pearson: We've heard about the goal, the mandate and some of the obstacles. What are the strategies that will get us some mileage as we move toward electronic government?

Kolodney: I think we have to start with the idea that we are all in different environments, and that will affect our speed. It's helpful if the governor gets it. It's helpful if the governor ensures the leaders of the stovepipes get it as well. That makes life a whole lot easier. Secondly, you can move more quickly if you don't have to ask a lot of permission. Some of us are fortunate that the resources are more "ours" than "theirs" and it makes it easier for us to dedicate those resources. And thirdly, you have to not see as many obstacles as there are out there. Henry Ford said obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off your intentions. I think that's true. We learn in government to see obstacles, because they are pointed out to use by those who don't want us to move forward. And I think it's part of our responsibility to have enough courage not to see the obstacles.

Bob Stafford: Historically, we have done business process reengineering at the application level. Now, we are on target to have a virtual agency capability using modern technology so we wouldn't have to worry about rearranging the stovepipes. So when things like the Workforce Investment Act or HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) comes down on us, we have to respond, and all those federal laws require multiagency participation. If we don't do it virtually, we'll never do it.

Laura Larimer: When we first started moving to e-government, we did silo development within our agencies. We then moved to portals so we could put one face on state government, but we still let that portal reflect all the agency structures. My suspicion is that we are going to go back to silos, only we are going to find the silos being around the intentions of the customers. So rather than one face on state government, we are going to have one face on something someone wants to do. As Alisoun [Moore] said, if you want to file your taxes, it really shouldn't matter whether those are federal, state or local. You ought to be able to file in the same place; it's all the same data. Let the back ends take care of those things.


Pearson: Have there been successes this far? Do we have examples we can learn from and take inspiration from?

Flyzik: We've come a long way. Web sites have been highly successful. The president has asked us to identify the top 500 government services and make sure they are online. The paperwork reduction act [aims] to get rid of paperwork. Public e-mail addresses are now required of agencies. There's accessibility for the disabled. We just announced our FirstGov portal, where you can search a half million documents in 1/4 of a second and handle millions of transactions a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The president's management council is requiring each agency to come up with at least one new initiative to make electronically within the next couple of months. We have electronic signatures and the ... commerce act, signed by the president, using a smart card. And we're working to get a lot of our procurement activities online.

Larimer: It is clear to me as a state official that I have a role in responding to Randy's [Murphy] plea to help local officials, to bring them into the process, to transfer technology, to share technology. We have been doing some outreach for some time to county-level officials and trying to establish some partnerships, but have been reasonably unsuccessful. I got a call from Government Technology and they wanted to come in to Indiana and do a forum, and Don was willing to come and speak to us. I said, "Can we talk about how we deal with seamless government and invite those local government officials to come in to the same forum?" So that's exactly what we did. It was an amazing eye-opener. And despite the outreach that I had done on a number of occasions -- and had been somewhat rebuffed -- that forum led to a real partnership. The person from the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, who I had been trying to reach for some time, was at that forum and he approached me afterwards. We now have a plan for how we're going to take some educational things and survey the members of that organization and figure out how we respond.

Elliot Schlanger: It's important to have leaders that support IT as an enabler. But that's not enough. We have to display an irate attitude -- doing it the old way is just not acceptable. The city of Baltimore has the active support of the mayor for accountability. It has Citystat on its overtime, extended illness, accident time, number of tons of trash that go to the dump, and when it's not right. When the numbers don't look right, then individuals have to explain what's happening. This is a model that this city has not seen for 200 years. When we talk about the culture shift, it's not just for those on top of the heap; it has to be a universal attitude, a way of life within the government.


Pearson: What could we do here today to help move intergovernmental cooperation forward? How do we move from lip service to "passionate lip service," as Alan [Balutis] said, and on to specific actions?

Paul Brubaker: I have a proposal to put out on the table that I want to put some resources behind. I'm not sure if a directory is the right idea, or a portal is the right idea, but I'd like to charter a group -- a subcommittee of this group -- and I will devote one full-time [person] to work on this, and we'll figure out the mechanics of where we will house this group.

Raynor: The NASIRE Intergovernmental Committee under Bradley's [Dugger] leadership has been meeting with the federal CIO council on several occasions and with GSA. We've discussed doing something together. Let's start showing our will to actually provide seamless government. What is the thing we could start doing together? Something easy and successful. We want to build [our portal] from the ground up with e-payment, and a directory, and PKI, building the technical framework. The federal government has a directory, has FirstGov and GovSearch. Could we think about doing a national directory so we could all use GovSearch? I would like to challenge us to put a group together as a first step. Because it is fundamental, it's fairly easy, we all have directories, and it would show our will and ability to be successful. And we could use that structure for documenting and replicating. The stars are aligned; let's do it.


Darby Patterson and Mary Noel from the Center for Digital Government contributed to this story.
Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.

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