ANOTHER VIEW: Mr. Bush: Don't undo 1990s reforms

Stephen H. Holden
You can add selecting a president to sausage making and legislating on the list of things that are better left unwatched. So it's George W. Bush who faces the arduous task of leading the country and running the federal government.

Some of the Bush rhetoric I've heard to date worries me, and some seems encouraging.

On the worrisome side, the president-elect appears to view information technology more as a way to increase efficiency'and reduce the size of the federal work force'than as a strategic tool for improving service and mission delivery.

On the other hand, Texas, under Bush's governorship, was ranked at the top among all states in a study of electronic government conducted by Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy. And the Bush campaign issued a press release stating its intention to create a $100 million investment fund for interagency e-government initiatives.

It's hard to reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions. Still, if it's Bush's intention to reduce the federal work force, the government is headed for a big step backward.

I'm hopeful the new administration won't go back on the Government Results and Performance Act or the gains in procurement and IT management passed during the Clinton administration. Lots of Republicans voted for these changes, too.

When the Clinton-Gore team was in the midst of its transition, the Brooks Act governed federal IT. The Brooks Act was enacted when mainframes, attended by high priests in glass houses, were dominant.

Then came repeal of the Brooks Act, changes in acquisition policy, revisions to Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130 and the advent of chief information officers.

The enactment of the Information Technology Management Reform Act was supposed to fundamentally change the way the federal government thought about and used IT. Admittedly there is a long way to go here.

The electronic-government craze that is now entrenched in the executive offices of most public organizations is a logical extension of the transformation that began in the 1990s.

Bush and his team have some interesting choices for what to do about this trend. They could spur on the revolution and advocate further investments in IT to improve service, efficiency and even social equity. Or they could relegate IT to its previous role in minimizing the federal work force.
Let's just hope the new administration embraces a strategic role for e-government and the technology it requires, rather than reversing bipartisan progress made over the last eight years.

Stephen H. Holden is assistant professor in the Information Systems Department of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He worked in the federal government for 16 years. E-mail him at Holden@umbc.edu.

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