State and fed CIOs pool resources to act on e-gov plans

State and fed CIOs pool resources to act on e-gov plans

By Wilson P. Dizard III and Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

A group of state and federal chief information officers agreed recently to form a task force to explore joint electronic-government projects.

New Jersey CIO Wendy W. Rayner says she has investigated various projects for state-federal IT cooperation.

The CIOs'including officials from about 20 states and from the Commerce, Defense, Transportation and Treasury departments as well as the General Services Administration and NASA'met last month for an e-government discussion during the National Association of State Information Resources Executives' conference in Baltimore.

Deputy Defense CIO Paul Brubaker pledged to assign an employee for 90 days to help identify federal-state projects that could be implemented quickly. The enthusiasm that the CIOs had for the plan was summed up by NASA systems chief Lee Holcomb when he said simply: 'Do it!'

Political support for IT projects is essential, says Washington state CIO Steve E. Kolodney.

NASIRE's newly elected president, Aldona K. Valicente, who is Kentucky's CIO, pledged her organization's support. After the meeting, Valicente acknowledged that personnel changes in Washington when the new administration comes on board in January could delay state-federal projects.

Amid the general agreement to push for greater cooperation, some CIOs pointed out potential problems.

Tennessee CIO Bradley Dugger recalled that 'when we got working on the Y2K problem, we worked together and did a good job.' But that spirit of cooperation has since withered because 'we don't have a dragon to kill,' he said.

New Jersey CIO Wendy W. Rayner said she had spent months investigating prospects for joint ventures, only to have unforeseen complexities stall seemingly simple projects. She suggested state and federal information technology executives cooperate in developing a national online directory of government systems.

Texas CIO Carolyn Purcell talks with Peter J. McGeoch of Peter J. McGeoch Consulting, Robert D. Knight, vice president for state and local government at ManTech International Corp., and Milford Sprecher, business development manager for SAP America Inc.

Post system specs

Under Rayner's plan, state and federal agencies would post the specifications of systems they have bought or built. Then other states could check to see if systems they need are already available; agencies then could share the cost of systems upgrades. 'Why should the citizens pay for a system 50 times?' Rayner said.

Other systems chiefs were more optimistic. Washington state CIO Steve E. Kolodney said the pressure for action is coming from outside the government, not within. 'That translates to political pressure and then to action,' he said.

Massachusetts CIO David Lewis, left, meets with Thomas Fogle, director of the Office of Information Technology Solutions in Michigan's Management and Budget Department, and Denis M. Teeter, an account executive with Keane Federal Systems Inc.

Kolodney said political support at the gubernatorial level is essential, adding that e-gov programs will be implemented faster if CIOs 'don't have to ask a lot of permission.'

Without cooperation, agencies are more likely to build disparate silos of information, Rayner said. She said she fears that agencies will adopt e-gov projects 'silo by silo.'

Steve Jennings, CIO of Harris County, Texas, said he agreed with Rayner that stovepipe architectures are a threat. 'The reality is that funding is tied to silos. Our goal is to topple the silos,' he said.

New Mexico CIO Robert N. Stafford, left, shares a laugh with North Dakota CIO Curtis L. Wolfe.

Before governments can present themselves to citizens with a seamless face, a substantial amount of tough re-engineering must take place, Maryland CIO Alisoun K. Moore said. Government's structure has evolved into myriad isolated organizations, she said.

To resolve the problem, Indiana CIO Laura Larimer said her state has turned project planning on its head and now designs systems based on citizens' goals for interacting with government.

Kentucky CIO and incoming NASIRE president Aldona K. Valicente receives a gavel from her predecesor, South Dakota CIO Otto Doll.

Focusing on citizens' needs has interesting consequences. Maryland, for instance, found that for some of its electronic permit systems, the period of highest use has been between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. 'Some of these people need to get a life,' joked Major F. Riddick Jr., chief of staff for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and chairman of the State Information Board. 'Don't get me wrong, fulfillment is wonderful.'

Also at the conference, former NASIRE president and South Dakota CIO Otto Doll discussed the issue of the digital divide. He cited five hurdles that state and local governments must overcome to keep their citizens from becoming digital have-nots:

Connecticut CIO Rock Regan chats with Maryland CIO Alisoun K. Moore.

''Geographic diversity. Doll said rural and urban communities face common problems, such as poverty and a lack of a systems infrastructure, that have put both on the have-not side of the digital tracks.

''Money. The economics of the Internet service industry are at odds with a state's mission of giving the same service to all its citizens, he said.

''Computer literacy. Internet savvy is not innate, Doll said; it must be learned. More resources have to go to education.

''Accessibility. States need to come up with a funding strategy for making systems available to disabled users.

''People. Government must deal more directly with cultural differences among people that lead to varied IT use and acceptance levels, Doll said.

Eddie Esquivel, director of Texas' Enterprise Operations Division, said his state has done a survey to understand such issues.

The survey of 1,002 Texans, conducted by the University of Texas, found that 60 percent had access to the Internet. But more than 47 percent of non-Internet users said they don't use computers at all, Esquivel said.

Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they would prefer to get government services from a person rather than a Web site, he said. 'Government has to build trust.'


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