Status quo is a barrier to OMB's e-gov plans

Status quo is a barrier to OMB's e-gov plans

Mark Forman

An observation circulating in Washington is that you can make progress on e-government initiatives'if you have more power than the president.

The joke hints at what's ahead for the Office of Management and Budget and especially Mark Forman, associate director for e-government and IT for the agency, and the point man for its 23 approved e-gov initiatives.

OMB's goal for the 23 projects goes beyond Forman's motto of 'unify and simplify.' Officials want to hurdle the obstacle that has prevented many governmentwide initiatives from succeeding: Agencies did not effect the cultural changes necessary to sustain the procedural changes.

'The problems Mark faces are not just problems of the government but problems of the institution,' said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government. 'This is not an area where there will be incremental change ... we are talking about leaping forward.'

OMB's biggest obstacle is what one longtime observer termed 'the inertia of government.'

'It is hard to get anything started in government, and once you get it started, it is hard to stop,' said Phil Kiviat, a former technical director of the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, and president and CEO of the Kiviat Group of Potomac, Md., a consulting firm.

'Culture change doesn't happen quickly. It takes five or 10 years to change culture; Mark is talking about doing it in 18 to 24 months.'

Forman has coined the term stakeholder resistance to describe another obstacle to e-gov. He said OMB will focus on easing resistance and encouraging agencies to share resources. 'We plan to spend a lot of time with those stakeholders who are affected to explain how this will work.'

But it won't be easy to convince veteran government employees to give up turf or power.

'People will not tend to come together,' said a former agency CIO who asked not to be named. 'Outside of money, turf protection probably is the biggest issue. If OMB had the funding, then they could buy their way out of the silos, but people have a built-in reason not to work together: protecting their turf.'

The former CIO said OMB must give agencies incentives, otherwise there is no reason for career employees to take on risks.
'E-gov will not achieve the transformation everyone dreams of because of the inertia,' the source said. 'Mark has a bigger job than anyone could possibly do. I'm not sure the president can hit this with a big enough hammer to make it move.'

Catch them with honey

George Molaski, former CIO of the Transportation Department and now president and CEO of Washington-based E-Associates, a government technology consulting firm, said incentives must play a major role.

'It was amazing what got done by offering the Hammer award for former Vice President Al Gore's reinvention of government initiative,' Molaski said. 'Culture is not something you fix but something you reinforce on a daily basis. Simplify and unify is the beginning of that culture change. But government workers also need a little push, and that is where incentives could come in.'

Forman, however, thinks the change is welcomed by every level of government, thus making turf battles less likely.

'Many people [don't understand] that a whole group in the government has changed its culture and is waiting for its supervisors to catch up,' he said. 'I'm trying to leverage off of those folks who want to change. There are GS-15s and lower-level [Senior Executive Service members] who are strategic thinkers and have been agents of change before.'

Forman also is counting on support from the President's Management Council and other members of the administration.

Congress is another potential obstacle. Forman's plan for agencies to share resources would shift some oversight power away from congressional committees.

'We are doing a team approach that would hold the team accountable instead of just one agency,' Forman said.

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