Online Extra: OMB is defining final phase for e-gov projects

Agencies have just about built it. The next step is getting the public and federal users to come.

Each of the Office of Management and Budget's 25 Quicksilver e-government projects will be rolled out by the end of the summer, administration officials vow. Now the agencies operating the projects must establish how they'll be used, but that step is made trickier by the fact that OMB is still establishing a definition for utilization.

OMB officials are working with the Council for Excellence in Government, a Washington nonprofit research organization, to define 100 percent utilization and plan how the projects will reach that mark. OMB also has enlisted the help of high-level agency executives to steer the plans.

'In a broad sense, utilization means getting the most out of these investments,' said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT. 'Utilization deals with customers or citizens and driving cost savings, achieving outcomes and giving a higher level of service to the citizen. The specifics will be in the plans for each project.'

Project managers seeking to define utilization'the third phase of e-government, after planning and implementation'must decide who their customers are and how they'll measure use of the service.

The President's Management Council, made up of deputy secretaries at Cabinet agencies, will sign off on the strategies for utilization and deployment.

'If the PMC members sign off on the plans, it brings the whole management of each department in line with the goal of the project,' Evans said.

OMB also has sought to drive utilization by issuing memos that remind other agencies to use the projects. Evans and OMB comptroller Linda Springer recently issued the first memo reinforcing the requirement for agencies to use Grants.gov.

Evans said similar memos for other projects are in the works.

The Labor Department's GovBenefits is a project that is on the cusp of full use.

Denis Gusty, GovBenefits project manager, said he defines utilization as achieving wide use of the portal and getting state and federal agencies to maintain content on the www.govbenefits.gov Web site. Between April of last year and January, 8.1 million people visited the site, Gusty said.

'We are trying to drive people to the site by developing collateral material for other parts of Labor, by handing out 500 videos to public broadcasting networks and giving 4,000 CDs to public libraries,' he said. 'There is difficulty in advertising any government-to-citizen initiative, but the more information we can make available, the more people will come to the site.'

The Education Department's E-Loans project will piggyback on the GovBenefits site to meet some of its utilization goals, said Charlie Coleman, the E-Loans project manager.

The project team in April will integrate a GovLoans feature into GovBenefits to serve as a one-stop shop where citizens can determine loans they can apply for.

'We've held numerous citizen focus groups to see what they thought about our concept,' Coleman said. 'We are now doing usability testing with citizens on the site.'

Coleman said after GovLoans is launched, developers will establish a baseline for use and set performance metrics from the baseline.

The E-Loans team also is working to meet back-office utilization goals. Coleman said these have not progressed as far as GovLoans. The focus of these efforts is sharing applicant information among agencies and simplifying how banks send loan payments to the government.

Lew Sanford, the General Services Administration's e-government program director, said measuring utilization for many of his projects takes a more traditional view.

For the E-Authentication initiative, Sanford said, one measure may be how many other e-government applications use the decentralized gateway. For the Integrated Acquisition Environment project, the number of vendors registered in the Business Partner Network would be a measure of use, as would how many vendors log in daily.

'For many of our projects, communication is the key for utilization,' he said. 'We need to find out what our partners' needs are and try to fill them. And help with the change management aspect of these projects.'

It seems inevitable that some projects won't reach OMB's utilization goals this year. For those projects not close to utilization'which would include Safecom, E-Rulemaking, Business Gateway and E-Records Management'the goal is to get them deployed and then utilized during fiscal 2005, Evans said.

'Those fully mature projects will move into a self-sustaining model,' she said. 'We will work with the rest to reach our goal of 100 percent utilization.'

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