CIOs name e-government as a priority but a tough challenge

CIOs name e-government as a priority but a tough challenge

BY TONY LEE ORR | GCN STAFF

Federal chief information officers still consider electronic-government initiatives their biggest job and greatest headache, a recent survey revealed.

The Information Technology Association of America's 11th annual survey of federal CIOs and IRM chiefs indicated the swing toward e-government is a strong one. Many systems chiefs consider it the single most important thing influencing their jobs.

The finding was not earthshaking given that CIOs have been citing e-government as a driving force within the federal arena for the past few years. As one CIO estimated, agencies have spent years doing the easy stuff toward e-government but have yet to grapple with the weighty questions.

'Individual programs have moved toward incorporating the Internet into what they do, usually as another channel of distribution for existing information,' Commerce Department CIO Roger Baker said. 'What we haven't done is to look at partnering opportunities between agencies seriously, nor have we really explored the transformation of our internal processes to be Internet-oriented.'

The Energy Department's acting CIO, Howard Landon, said that the move toward e-government is getting tougher because the demand for information continues to grow.

'This requires higher levels of investment in and coordination between our content providers, site owners and decision-makers with an emphasis on collaboration,' he said.

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CIOs identified some changes needed to help them succeed, including increased authority and supportive leadership. Respondents also said government must establish a modern IT foundation, focus on security, find and keep qualified IT workers, and improve acquisition methods.

'CIOs as a group have very little authority or resources to make the transitions that e-government initiatives require,' said Olga Grkavac, ITAA executive vice president. 'So there is some concern that while they are creating the infrastructure to support e-government, they are not able to lead its definition and implementation.'

But Baker, who is co-chairman of the CIO Council's Security, Privacy and Critical Infrastructure Committee, said turf wars and government structure are the true hindrances to successful e-government initiatives.

'Getting agencies to play together on common customer interfaces is nearly impossible because giving up control is not something government agencies like to do,' he said.

Money isn't really a problem, Baker said.

'We are spending plenty of money in this government,' he said. 'The issue is finding the political guts to trim or totally cut programs that are no longer producing for the public.'

Landon agreed with Baker, but noted that dedicated funding tends to be the 'great equalizer' in deciding which programs take priority.

'It's more a question of being able to apply human resources in the areas of training, knowledge management, architecture development and planning,' Landon said.

But Baker'along with some other CIOs'maintains that a strong governmentwide CIO is needed to plan and direct e-government efforts.

'There is no plan because there is no central authority to put the plan together and then manage its implementation,' he said. 'So, we all go off and spend our money where we each think it should go, with extremely little coordination.'

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