Another View: Francis A. McDonough and Martha A. Dorris

International IT initiatives hold lessons for feds

Sometimes you have to go far away to get a good perspective on things at home. That's what we did in joining delegates from 26 countries at the 33rd International Council for Information Technology in Government Administration (ICA) conference held recently in Bratislava, Slovak Republic.

Using what we culled from that conference, we'll share some observations and offer some ideas for federal managers:

Electronic commerce. E-commerce is a hot topic in all 26 ICA nations. In the United Kingdom, the prime minister's goal is to have all government purchases handled online by 2004. Denmark has allocated $2 million in grants for nine pilot programs promoting a public-key infrastructure for use in self-service systems.

Ireland has enacted an e-commerce law that includes provisions for data, copyright and intellectual-property protection.

We recommend that the U.S. federal IT community commission the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions at the General Services Administration to study other countries' initiatives in detail and suggest plans for action.

Online services to citizens. A report last year from the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions, Integrated Services Delivery: Forty Governments Using Technology to Serve the Citizen, detailed slow progress in online services despite countless discussions, conferences and reports on the subject since 1988.

Chief information officers should address the big question: Why is integrated services delivery for citizens taking so long?

Our research shows three causes: a lack of funding mechanisms for cross-government initiatives; stovepipe organizations in the executive and legislative branches; and a shortage of managers skilled in intergovernmental operations.

Protecting new procurement flexibility. In 1996, legislation gave federal managers greater flexibility in buying IT goods and services. Now the important thing is to protect this flexibility and to spread the gospel to other nations.

We suggest three actions. First, commission a study documenting the benefits of the streamlined federal procurement process. Second, initiate a self-policing program to demonstrate to industry and Congress that strong self-regulation negates the need for new and restrictive legislation. And third, sponsor a conference to teach other nations how to streamline their procurement processes.

The impact of wireless Internet access. In some countries, wireless phones outnumber connected ones. This year, $100 devices that allow low-cost wireless access to the Internet will come on the market. The United States has agreed to adopt European standards, so wireless devices in this country will be able to operate worldwide.

Our suggested action: CIOs should develop plans to capitalize on these emerging mobility tools.

A common definition of electronic government. Public servants need such a definition. The CIO Council could take the lead and develop common definitions for the entire new e-government vocabulary, which would let managers in all countries speak a common IT language.

Measuring IT. Government executives must develop ways to measure the effects of IT investments. And they need to compare their progress in e-government with that of other countries.

The U.S. IT community should begin by developing measures that would let agencies compare their e-government progress against that of other agencies. GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn., and other research firms publish models that are good starting points.

The maze of Web pages. The federal government maintains thousands of home pages, and each seems to offer a different way for people to find information or complete a transaction.

The CIO Council should start a program to encourage standardizing the design of pages that provide services to citizens.

Collecting data only once. The Netherlands and France collect data from citizens one time only, then share it with appropriate agencies as needed. Privacy advocates fear such an approach. But central collection, storage and distribution of personal information can reduce the burden on the public and on government.

Federal IT officials and privacy advocates should take any opportunity to debate this issue, while working to develop common approaches to personal data.

Francis A. McDonough is deputy associate commissioner of intergovernmental solutions at the General Services Administration. Martha A. Dorris is deputy director. Contact McDonough at

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