Daley makes push for his 'e-commerce department' campaign

Daley makes push for his 'e-commerce department' campaign

Officials say prospects for working via a secure intranet hinge on funding, departmentwide attitudes

By Frank Tiboni and Julie Britt

GCN Staff

Commerce Secretary William M. Daley's plan for a paperless environment by 2002 is the culmination of more than a year of groundwork, but its success will depend on Congress' willingness to fund the initiative and the department's acceptance of massive change.

Daley announced the creation of Commerce's Digital Department during a keynote speech that concluded the E-Gov 99 conference in Washington last month.

'I want to build a department that conducts personnel actions, and procurement, and as much internal business as feasible on a secure intranet,' Daley said. 'I am setting a goal: By 2002, the Commerce Department will be truly an e-commerce department.'

Chief information officer Roger Baker and Karen Hogan, the new director of Commerce's Digital Department, have 45 days to develop a plan that will guide the project for the next three years.

Baker said he was aware of Daley's plan as far back as last July, when the secretary named him CIO.

Daley and other senior managers indicated the department wanted to embrace electronic commerce, Baker said.

'The biggest challenge we'll have is establishing an intranet because we don't have one,' said Baker, who helped build an online banking system for Visa member banks as vice president of marketing and product development for Visa International's Interactive subsidiary in Herndon, Va.

Commerce needs $5 million to rewire its headquarters in the Herbert Hoover Building. For the past five years, Congress has denied the funding request, Daley said.

The $5 million is the estimated cost of the fiber-optic backbone needed to carry high bandwidth traffic for the intranet and other uses, Baker said.

'This project is a very small but fundamental piece of the secretary's vision of a digital department,' Baker said.

The old wiring cannot handle the various media the agency wants to bring to desktop PCs, Baker said. The new wiring would let the department implement videoconferencing and training applications, as well as the intranet.

The Hoover Building was built in the Industrial Age, Daley said. 'It needs to be brought in touch with the Information Age. Yet the process to get the money is still in the Dark Ages.'

Baker said, 'A joke around Commerce is, 'Don't look up at the wiring over your head because if it falls on you it will crush you.' '

The agency will point out the old wiring's inefficiencies when requesting the funds for fiscal 2001, he said.

'We're not at the point where we're hurting in 1999, but if we can get the funding for 2001, we will see benefits in 2002,' he said.

'The problem isn't just Congress; it's the whole way government operates in opposition to what is needed to operate efficiently in an e-commerce world,' Baker said. 'There's no such thing as a quick reaction.'

Because the government is structured around paper, the switch could require restructuring government, he said. 'That's a strategic issue to wrestle with.'

Administrative work

Federal agencies are moving toward the Clinton administration's goal of electronic government, but it is more realistic to expect digital government by 2015 to 2020, Baker said.

'You can't move to digital government by saying, 'This is what we want to do' and asking Congress to fund it,' he said. 'Government works differently than the private sector. The private sector says, 'We have to figure out how to get there with the money we have.' '

'The government says, 'If Congress does not fund it, we can't build it,' ' Baker said.

Commerce already spends $1 billion per year on information technology, so the move to e-commerce will require a significant investment, Baker said.

Other challenges include coordinating and getting cooperation for the Digital Department across Commerce. But Baker said he chose the best person to make the initiative a reality.

'Karen's the right person for the job,' he said. 'She's a great person at coordination and planning. Also, she said she wanted to do it.'

Hogan said she left Census for the initiative's technical and management challenge. 'Plus, you can't have any job better than a secretarial initiative,' she said.

Her departure from Census will not have a negative impact on the decennial census because the bureau has a senior IT person heading the project, Hogan said.

Daley's decision to throw his weight behind the Digital Department will focus attention on it, too, Baker said.

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