E-gov efforts moving forward? Depends who you ask

'We are on a death march to get these projects finished.'

'GSA's Mary Mitchell

Henrik G. de Gyor

'GAO's evaluation does not accurately reflect where we are today.'

'OMB's Karen Evans

Graduation day is coming for the 25 Quicksilver initiatives, and some projects won't be walking across the stage.

Many of the Office of Management and Budget's e-government projects have failed to meet or have only partially met most of their objectives over the past two years, a senior General Accounting Office official told lawmakers last month. Because of that, the Quicksilver initiatives will fall short of full deployment this summer, said Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information issues.

OMB and several e-government project managers disputed the GAO findings.

Only two projects, Grants.gov and IRS Free File, have achieved all their objectives, Koontz said. Another five accomplished more than half. Of the 91 objectives originally set for the projects, GAO found 33 have been met; 38 have been partially achieved; and for 17, no significant progress has been made. Auditors also noted that three objectives were no longer applicable to their projects.

'We didn't see all positive progress,' she said at a recent hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census. 'OMB and agencies are behind where they thought they were going to be, and some things will not be completed in their original time frame.'

Project Safecom, Consolidated Health Informatics and the Business Gateway are examples of slow-moving projects, she said.

Big difference

'There is quite a bit of difference in what the projects achieved,' Koontz said. 'Some were more clever than others in putting down achievable objectives for the two-year period. Other objectives were much harder and were never achievable.'
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In an interview, Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT, said GAO's evaluation likely came before her staff analyzed the project plans to make sure they were in step with the 2002 and 2003 e-government strategy.

'GAO's evaluation does not accurately reflect where we are today,' Evans said. 'We are working toward a technical deployment, which is a lot of what GAO looked at, but we also are dealing with [projects' adoption by users]. These mean different things for each project.'

OMB officials and the CIO Council set Sept. 30 as a deadline for at least 80 percent of the projects to be fully deployed, hoping the initiatives would let agencies redirect $100 million in redundant spending. The administration also is requiring agencies to develop marketing plans, define full utilization and, for some projects, switch to a fee-for-service model.

'We are on a death march to get these projects finished,' said Mary Mitchell, the General Services Administration's deputy associate administrator for e-government and technology. 'Every project manager is pushing their schedule as hard as they can to deliver on the promise.'

Evans said graduation day means different things for each project. For some, it means reaching the target audience and achieving the project's metrics. For others, it means defining standards and architectures and seeing results in procurements.

Although Koontz expressed concern over the initiatives, project managers told GCN they have achieved much success.

Kim Nelson, CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency, said she is shocked by how much progress agencies have made.

'Based on my state government experience, I would never have guessed we would have advanced so far,' she said. 'This is pretty remarkable, and we've done it without a blueprint to follow.'

Norm Enger, e-government project director for the Office of Personnel Management, said he had been skeptical that much would get accomplished on his agency's five projects.

'We have been able to show change can take place,' he said. 'E-government broke the ice because of intelligent planning and leadership. We showed we can transform how government works.'

Moving targets

Other project directors said GAO's concerns were unwarranted.

'GAO looked at information from the business cases we submitted last summer,' Mitchell said. 'A number of initiatives supplied updates, but GAO has to have a baseline starting point for all the projects. We know they will never be perfectly accurate.'

Charlie Grymes, project manager for Recreation One-Stop at the Interior Department, said it is difficult for GAO to evaluate all 25 projects because they are moving targets.

'We've adjusted our objectives because we are learning as we go,' he said.

Mitchell said the reason GAO and others believe some of the e-government projects are less successful is the lack of tangible evidence.

'There is more progress than GAO said, but if you take a project like E-Travel, we have migration plans and are moving toward a common solution, but until you get major transactions running through this thing, it is really hard to prove your success,' she said. 'But the reality is in small cases we have proved a lot of these projects will work.'

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