Latest e-gov task: finding funding

Latest e-gov task: finding funding

Lew Sanford, GSA's e-gov program manager, says the projects are taking a toll on resources.

When agencies agreed to lead the 24 projects for the Office of Management and Budget's e-government initiative, a major question left unanswered was how agencies would fund the work.

Now that most of the projects have moved beyond the business case stage, the need for funding is becoming imperative'especially for agencies with multiple projects.

Help could soon be on the way, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government. His office soon will dole out some of the $5 million in fiscal 2002 e-gov funding appropriated by Congress to a handful of projects.

The General Services Administration, which manages the e-gov budget, last week sent a letter to Congress outlining the funding plans.

'This money will help fill in the gaps agencies have,' Forman said. 'We selected those projects with good business cases to receive the funding.'

OMB is waiting for project teams to finish up their business cases before finalizing the funding plan, Forman said. Additionally, he said, some agencies would likely need to share funds, using authorities granted under the Clinger-Cohen Act.

Although Forman declined to identify the projects that would receive funds, a number of project leaders speculated that the larger, cross-agency initiatives likely were on the short list.

GSA's E-Authentication and Digital Signatures effort and the Office of Personnel Management's Enterprise Human Resources Integration system are two wide-ranging initiatives, for instance, that seem like candidates for funding, project leaders said.

Projects that are farther along also probably have an edge, such as the Interior Department's Recreation One-Stop or the Small Business Administration's Business Compliance One-Stop site.

Agency leaders with one or two projects voiced less concern about funding than those overseeing multiple efforts.

'The ideas of e-gov don't coincide with the availability of funds,' said OPM CIO Janet Barnes. 'The real concern is for 2002. I'm worried how long we can keep the projects afloat in the near term.'

Juggling act

OPM is leading four projects besides the integrated HR system: E-Payroll, E-Clearance, E-Training and Recruitment One-Stop. Barnes questioned how OPM will juggle the projects with current initiatives on an IT budget of $92 million.

'We keep moving in-house resources, and we can't keep going that way,' she said. 'That takes away from other projects. OMB must come through with funding. There are projects that we must do whether they are a part of e-gov or not.'

Barnes is not alone in her concerns. Lew Sanford, GSA's e-gov program manager, said work on the agency's projects is taking a toll on resources, especially personnel.

'Our project teams are very thin,' he said. 'There also are plenty of us taking on multiple tasks, and day-to-day activities suffer.'

GSA is leading four projects besides E-Authentication: USA Service, Federal Asset Sales, Integrated Acquisition and
E-Travel. Sanford said a limited amount of discretionary funding has been set aside for work on the projects, but it is not enough to make a lot of progress.

To save money, GSA is looking for existing systems that can be modified and incorporated into the projects.

Barnes said OPM teams are considering developing the projects in small modules that can be funded internally at first. If the modules succeed, that success could be used to argue the case for additional funding, she said.

'We have to be flexible and creative in trying to figure out how to do this,' Barnes said. 'It is worth belt-tightening, but we cannot sustain five initiatives down the road. And if we do our homework and make the case to our partners, we will not have to.'

Jim Van Wert, SBA's e-gov project manager and senior adviser for policy planning and e-gov, agreed with Barnes that funding this year is a major hurdle. He said he expects funding in fiscal 2003 to be more plentiful.

OMB asked Congress for $5 million for SBA's project in 2003, Van Wert said. To make up for a funding shortfall now, Van Wert is using innovative ways to move the business compliance project forward. He has asked partner agencies for funds and is asking vendors to provide online transaction and content management software for free initially.

Still, Van Wert knows the project needs funding from Congress or OMB. 'Unless I get funding, there is only so much I can do,' he said.

While Van Wert is looking outside the government for help, Ed Hugler, deputy assistant secretary for operations in the Labor Department's Administration and Management Office, has received assistance from his partner agencies.

Hugler said that for the recently renamed GovBenefits.gov project he has received funds for temporary employees and more than $100,000 from partner agencies.

'We are showing them the work we are doing is good for their agencies and then asking them to provide whatever they can,' he said.

The Transportation and Interior departments do not plan on asking for funds this year and have the in-house resources to work on their projects.

'We believe we have enough funds available to use on these projects,' said Scott Cameron, Interior's deputy assistant secretary for performance and management and e-gov project team leader for the Recreation One-Stop. 'We will not be asking for cash until we have the tasks and their cost more specifically defined.'

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