Another View: Infrastructure matters'really, it does

Mark A. Forman

Government can be more effective and responsive if it does a better job of managing its resources.

For decades, layers of bureaucracy built up, adding little value but consuming resources and turning honest, hard-working public servants into paper pushers. The situation made it easier to cover up problems rather than fix them.

The birth of e-government was important to reformers who emerged after the re-engineering fumbles of the early 1990s. E-government has focused on using technology and management to give customers and employees more control, and offer better productivity and customer service.

Successful e-government programs have used IT as a strategic tool. They have replaced organizational hierarchies and silos with collaborative approaches that use IT to better fulfill customer needs.

In March 2001, when the administration asked me to become the first CIO for the federal government, I made one thing clear: I don't do infrastructure. I asked whether the president saw this as a techie job or government reform job. Officials assured me that the job would be to control IT spending and use it to make the government more responsive and productive.

I didn't focus on IT infrastructure much until November 2001.

When we analyzed barriers to both e-government and information sharing needed for homeland security, it became apparent that we had to attend to the thousands of unconnected networks. Federal employees could not work across agencies or with state and local governments.

We found that agencies had built databases and tools to match the way they wanted to work. Communications infrastructures and computing environments were built to support their siloed applications; the infrastructures prevented integration and teamwork.

Indeed, the Quicksilver Task Force in 2001 identified the lack of a standards-based, interoperable infrastructure as a barrier to the transformation sought through e-government.

By the time the fiscal 2003 budget was submitted, it was clear the government had to have an infrastructure to communicate across agencies for homeland security and e-government. And when the president submitted his 2004 budget proposal, it was obvious that the government was paying three to four times more than the private sector for similar office automation and infrastructure items. IT infrastructure had become a way that agencies fought integration and teamwork.

This had to change. We sent letters that invoked the Office of Management and Budget's control of agencies' budgets under the Clinger-Cohen Act; we created a component-based Federal Enterprise Architecture; and we made brought spending closer to benchmarks.

Perhaps the most profound action OMB took was the decision to require each agency to submit a single, integrated business case for office automation and infrastructure by last September.

CIOs made it clear that they needed more authority to drive change, and work on best practices showed that such authority would come only if CIOs had control over their infrastructures. The office automation and infrastructure business cases gave CIOs the means to control.

Most of the great innovations coming out of Silicon Valley focus on infrastructure. The innovations relate to two important concepts: lower total cost of ownership and integration of organizations via service-oriented architectures. For any government reformer, these two concepts are equally important.

Mark A. Forman, former Office of Management and Budget administrator for e-government and IT, is executive vice president at Cassatt Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif.

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