OMB pushes agencies to make online attempt

OMB pushes agencies to make online attempt

OMB's Jacob J. Lew says agencies should reject electronic transactions only if they're not cost-effective.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Agencies need to move toward doing more business online unless there is a good reason not to, the Office of Management and Budget said last week.

The directive came as part of OMB's new guidance on meeting the requirements of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

A decision to reject electronic transactions should be made only if 'there is no reasonably cost-effective combination of technologies and management controls that can be used to operate the transaction and sufficiently minimize the risk of significant harm,' OMB director Jacob J. Lew said in a memo accompanying the guidance.

The guidance, OMB Procedures and Guidance on Implementing GPEA, advises agencies how to carry out the law, which requires that citizens be able to do the vast majority of business with the government online by October 2003.

The guidance came shortly after the White House issued a report renewing its push for electronic government.

In a memo issued last month, the Clinton administration urged agencies to 'move forward aggressively' to provide government services online.

'Government services must robustly evolve into the Internet age,' recommended the President's Management Council in its memo.

The White House council, composed of senior agency executives from across the federal government, instructed agencies to create a central online site for government forms, create customer-centric Web sites around specific services such as procurement and exports, and push the use of digital certificates.

GPEA should be a strong motivator and encourage agencies to make transactions electronic and meet the administration's e-government demands, said Jonathan P. Womer.

Womer, a policy analyst for OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, described the law as tantamount to saying 'this is going to happen unless you can show us why not.'

He spoke last month during a forum for the General Services Administration's Access Certificates for Electronic Services.

The push toward a digital government gives agencies an opportunity to improve existing processes and systems, the GPEA guidance said.

Agencies will still have to demonstrate that a system supports the online mission and is cost-effective.

GPEA says agencies should make processes electronic when practical, Womer said, but the cost justification is critical.

'If it's not cost-effective, that's the way it is,' he said.

'We do think this is a critical and seminal time' to conduct business electronically, NIST's Alan P. Balutis says.

OMB, however, recognizes that it could take time to realize savings, which will likely be difficult to quantify. E-government benefits tend to be widely dispersed while the costs are centralized, Womer said.

Agencies have been waiting for other agencies to blaze the trail and have been awaiting the development of robust public-key infrastructure technologies.

But some have been reluctant to use digital certificates because of concerns that they would still need to gather paper signature forms.

The guidance reiterated that electronic signatures are legal and should not prevent a shift to electronic transactions.

OMB stressed that risks of e-government initiatives should determine the level of security. The level of risk will depend on the type of transaction. A transaction between agencies might necessitate a higher level of security than one between an agency and a citizen, for example.

Data collected electronically also must meet requirements of the Privacy Act of 1974. The act demands that agencies notify citizens when they collect data about them.

Officials with the Chief Information Officers Council's E-Government Committee said there is a window of opportunity to get the e-government work done.

'We do think this is a critical and seminal time,' said Alan P. Balutis, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program and co-chairman of the CIO Council committee.

'This generation is the first generation that expects to be able to get information whenever they want it,' said George Molaski, Transportation Department CIO and the committee's third co-chairman.

OMB has posted the GPEA guidance on the Web at

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