Feds discuss challenges of interagency projects

Feds discuss challenges of interagency projects

When e-government managers come knocking on the door for cooperation from the chiefs of federal programs and processes, the common response is, 'I have a way that should be the way.'

Speaking late last month at a meeting of the Bethesda, Md., chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, five leaders of e-gov projects told what it's like to try to build bridges between agencies for the 24 efforts under the Office of Management and Budget e-gov umbrella.

The biggest obstacle is 'the culture. The government is still thinking in stovepipes,' said John Sindelar, the General Services Administration's E-Gov Task Force manager. He compared the job of seeking cooperation to 'herding cats.'

'They're going to wait you out' for 12 or 18 months until OMB's pressure to unify and simplify goes away, said Patrick Kirwan, who manages the Commerce Department's international trade streamlining project.

Even OMB's Quicksilver team members who chose the 24 projects regressed back to agency self-interest after they initially had 'put on the big government hat' to unify and simplify, Sindelar said.

'The technology piece is relatively easy, but the organizational side is hard,' said John Mahoney, manager of the Interior Department's Recreation One-Stop project. His challenge is getting state CIOs and park directors to agree on common data standards.

Definition, please

Charles Havekost, e-Grants manager at the Health and Human Services Department, referred to 'entrenched business processes' at the 26 grant-making agencies, which are 'accustomed to owning the entire lifecycle of grants. It's going to be hard to find agreement on what an e-application is.'

The Quicksilver experience brought them high visibility, the managers agreed. It 'gave us access we didn't have before,' Kirwan said, but now 'the deliverables need to get done.'

'It raised our profile and opened doors but also raised expectations,' Mahoney said.

Some agencies are still on the fence about the viability of the 24 projects, Sindelar said, noting that they 'overlap quite a bit. The 24 initiatives could go down to 10 or 12, and you wouldn't lose a thing.'

As for the administration's $100 million e-gov fund, Sindelar called the FirstGov.gov search site a 'marquee initiative' but said GSA still has to pass the hat to fund it.

'Somebody's system has got to get squashed' to move things along faster, Sindelar said. 'Congress says it already puts $45 billion to $50 billion into IT every year' 'You've got money.' '

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