Executive Suite: Don't expect the status quo

Mark Forman

Over the last month, people have asked me what will change as a result of the election.

The president won re-election, but I don't think it means there will be no change in
e-government. Indeed, a second term Bush presidency will likely engender more changes than people expect.

IT has been a key element of success in modern democracies. This is a function of the fact that IT reduces cycle times: People find out what they need to know faster, government can make decisions faster, and either government acts faster or the public finds out faster that government is not performing well.

Whether you look at the fight against terrorism or the fight against hunger, IT continues to be the greatest source of government management improvement.

An essential part of the President's Management Agenda is making government citizen-centered, not agency-centered. In industry, we call this consolidation around the customer. In either case, you end up getting better results with less spending, and IT is the enabler of consolidation.

Consolidation of back-office systems such as payroll, financial management and human resources is just the beginning. But it is hard to grab even this low-hanging fruit.

If consolidation and a reduction in IT spending is going to occur, deep government management problems must be addressed. Indeed, the government's top performance problem is redundancy in responsibilities of federal agencies.

Two years ago, the Volcker Commission highlighted examples of the problem: 50 agencies implement drug control strategies; 29 administer 541 clean air, water and waste programs; 23 administer 200 programs that provide assistance to countries formerly part of the Soviet Union; and 12 administer more than 35 food safety laws.

And redundant organizations in government don't collaborate; they compete.

It's been two years since the line-of-business consolidation work started. It's a simple concept: Common business systems are generic, and each agency does not need to reinvent its own version. The current financial management and human resources consolidations are a good start. But we can't fix the broken federal structure by fixing redundancy in back-office systems.

So it's time to move beyond simple IT line-of-business consolidation and start taking advantage of IT for performance breakthroughs. What's needed is a unique partnership between Congress and the White House. We simply can't keep wasting tens of billions of dollars when what's needed is real governmentwide restructuring.

I believe the best analysis of what needs to be done lies with the teams who have been working on the Federal Enterprise Architecture. They get to see how technology affects results. The country needs federal IT leaders to join political leaders and define better ways for the government to organize.

IT and e-business concepts are critical enablers, but politicians must learn how to take advantage of collaborative decision-making, knowledge management techniques and effective work processes. An independent commission could do that, and a re-elected president could do that. So now is the time to get on with this long-needed change.

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

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