The electronic enigma

The electronic enigma<@VM>E-gov case file: National Business Center<@VM>E-gov case file: HUD

Feds begin unraveling the mysteries of e-government


The House's technology sage, Rep. Tom Davis, is nothing if not blunt about the need to speed government's pace in going electronic.

'Technology is like a steamroller,' the Virginia Republican said. 'Either you get on board, or you become part of the pavement.'

Davis' simile conveys the growing sense of urgency that something has to be done'and soon'to drive government beyond the elementary stages of Internet commerce and keep it from getting steamrolled.

True, most every agency has a Web site'many are attractive and useful and packed with information. Some agencies' sites even let people conduct transactions. But those sites represent only a tiny fraction of all the business government conducts.

The Army's James Buckner, GSA's Deborah Diaz and Rep. Tom Davis are pursuing e-government on different fronts.

As chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, Davis is well-positioned to assess how the government is doing.

'We're making changes, but it's at a much slower rate than you see out there in the private sector,' he said.

Davis proffered these observations last month at a news conference in Washington staged by the Council for Excellence in Government. The council was announcing a sweeping plan to get agencies planted in the catbird seat on the e-government steamroller.

The room was jammed with federal, state and industry information technology leaders, many of whom had participated in hammering out the plan,
'E-Government: The Next American Revolution,' which is available online at

'I think it's a great blueprint, and it will get some serious consideration from our subcommittee, and some of the ideas parallel our own,' Davis said. 'There are a lot of great ideas in this report.'

The plan addresses what most observers see as the vital issues for making progress in e-government's next stages: a need for stronger leadership at all levels, a management team to coordinate interagency efforts and a funding vehicle for governmentwide initiatives.

In large measure, the blueprint, drawing on the opinions of 350 technology leaders, represents the ideal recipe for jump-starting the government.

Plenty of chiefs

For example, the plan proposes not one but three government officials to lead e-government: a special assistant to the president, a governmentwide chief information officer and a deputy director of management and technology at the Office of Management and Budget.

The plan also calls for a $3 billion capital fund to be spent over five years on cross-agency projects.

Source: CIO Council's inventory of electronic initiatives

In contrast, the Bush administration, by all accounts committed to e-government, is looking only at expanding the responsibilities of the deputy director for management at OMB to include a technology leadership role.

And in his fiscal 2002 budget request, President Bush seeks $100 million over three years, tightly controlled by OMB, to support interagency e-government efforts (see story, Page 9).

But the presence of former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, an adviser to Bush and a vocal booster of e-government, on a panel at the council's news conference was seen as a signal that the administration is paying attention to the blueprint and to the measures espoused in it.

'The barriers aren't technical anymore,' said Goldsmith, who is expected to become chairman of AmeriCorps, the domestic complement to the Peace Corps. 'The barriers we face are ones of leadership. If we have a public leadership that understands that citizen services are a high priority, we can get it done.'

The administration's budget proposal echoes much of the language in the council's plan, calling for Internet use to create a 'citizen-centric government' and 'transformational change.' To that end, agencies must work together to consolidate services around the needs of people and businesses, the administration said.

'Citizen-centered government will use the Internet to bring about transformational change: Agencies will conduct transactions with the public along secure Web-enabled systems that use portals to link common applications and protect privacy,' the document noted. Such interactions will be driven by 'citizen preference and not agency boundaries.'

Although the White House's budget priorities appear to set the stage for taking e-government to the next level, the stark reality is that the road ahead is long and uncertain.

A good measure of the progress on e-government is the CIO Council's new online Inventory of Electronic Initiatives, at

'You don't change [centuries] of Gutenberg-based process to a post-Gutenberg age in a year.'
'Education CIO Craig Luigart

The site classifies as transformational about 55 of 1,300 electronic pilots or programs. Another 463 of the programs involve transactions with government. Most of the rest provide information.
Taken as whole, the 1,300 initiatives represent a fraction of all government programs and services.

On the government-to-business or procurement side, a new study by Jupiter Media Metrix of New York estimates that total spending via the Internet by government at all levels will rise to $286.1 billion in 2005, from $13.8 billion in 2000.
That's a whopping increase, but the 2005 projection still represents just 17 percent of government spending overall.

Paperless purchasing

In its budget plan, the Bush administration said electronic procurement must become a governmentwide standard and that 'wherever possible, agencies will move to paperless contracting processes.'

'We've got a long way to go,' conceded G. Martin Wagner, the General Services Administration's deputy administrator for governmentwide policy. If the road to full e-government is 100 miles long, 'we're at mile eight.'

Some feds argue that agencies have done a pretty good job of making information available via the Web and, in doing so, have executed one of government's primary functions.

They also note that agencies have made strides in developing electronic capabilities. They point to GSA's site, a one-stop portal to government information and services, as a significant, if relatively small, step.

'FirstGov is a major step, but the only way to get toward full implementation of e-government is by rolling out services,' said Robert Rakowitz, associate manager of data research at Jupiter. He has been charting the evolution of e-government.

'It's one thing to get people to the right area,' he said. 'It's another thing to offer them the right services.'

Feds agreed there's more to e-government than Web pages.

'Electronic government is much deeper than webifying an individual application,' Wagner said. 'It's a lot more radical than simply putting stuff on the Web that used to be sent by mail.'

The ultimate goal

Indeed, transformation has become the buzzword. It represents the ultimate goal: going beyond automating existing procedures to building sites that truly interact with users. A transformed system, for example, would let individuals set up their own one-stop sites to conduct customized interactions with government.

Agencies face a deadline of October 2003, when they must implement the Government Paperwork Elimination Act. GPEA requires agencies, where practical to offer individuals or businesses the option of submitting information or making transactions electronically. The act also validates the legality of electronic documents and digital signatures.

Agencies have submitted plans to OMB for implementing GPEA, though the quality of the plans varies, Dan Chenok, chief of information policy at OMB's Office of Regulatory Affairs, told the CIO Council late last year.

The practicality proviso could have a significant impact on the extent to which GPEA-driven programs are implemented before the 2003 deadline. To be sure, the hurdles in stepping up the pace are daunting.

'Just the sheer volume of activity makes [e-government] a big challenge for the government,' said James Buckner, chief information officer for the Army Materiel Command. 'The magnitude of just the Defense Department or even the Army Materiel Command makes it a huge undertaking.'

In its report, the Council for Excellence in Government noted that the government's customer base is larger than that of even the largest multinational corporation and that the huge amount of information the government must generate, update and manage compounds the online challenge.

But according to most observers, the barriers to getting e-government moving aren't technological.
The big issues boil down to instituting governmentwide leadership, funding cross-government programs, integrating stovepipe programs, overcoming ingrained cultural barriers, and enhancing security and privacy.

Many insiders view FirstGov as a rudimentary model for future initiatives, especially for the next phase of e-government'developing cross-agency, government-to-government systems.

Up and running in 90 days, FirstGov benefited from strong support and leadership at the highest levels of government. It involved interagency cooperation, and the Clinton administration funded the portal through a common pool to which agencies contributed.

'We had the support of the President's Management Council, the CIO Council and all of the various agencies,' said Deborah Diaz, GSA's deputy associate administrator for FirstGov.

Vested interest

The pass-the-hat funding approach wasn't easy, she added, but 'it got each of the agencies involved. They had a piece of the pie because they were paying for it. So it brought them to the table and gave them a vested interest in making FirstGov work.'

FirstGov also transcends agency boundaries by letting users search for information by subject. For instance, a search under 'recreation and travel' brings up links to related information and services from a variety of agencies and on topics from parks to passports.

The next step for FirstGov is 'the true integration of federal, state and local information,' Diaz said. 'We have permission from the vast majority of states to put their primary domains into the search engine. That will be happening shortly. And then we'll be dealing with local governments as well.'

In effect, FirstGov presents government programs and services in one face to the public.

'The portal model is the rough way of doing things at the moment,' Wagner said. 'It changes our mind-set from one of sitting inside government looking out to one of standing outside government looking in.'

The Army Materiel Command is developing a business site similar to FirstGov called Army Single Face to Industry.

'It's an electronic interface to bidders, vendors and contractors that will show them, through one consolidated Web site, all of the contracting and competitions that we're about to do,' Buckner said. 'We're trying to set up so that the entire Army can have one Web site with all of our solicitations out there.'

In the works for about a year, the project is still in the pilot stage. 'We're waiting for approval to proceed with the various digital signature methods that will have to be put in place,' Buckner said.

High hurdles

Though initiatives such as FirstGov and the Army Single Face to Industry are steps in the right direction, e-government ultimately will require that all levels of government work together as a single enterprise, said James Flyzik, Treasury Department CIO and vice chairman of the CIO Council. And that presents big cultural challenges.

'To really do e-government right you have to view programs from the point of view of the customer, not of any one agency,' he said. 'That implies the need for an intergovernmental or interagency approach. And we're not good at coordinating interagency approaches. Overcoming the cultural barriers is going to take leadership because you've got agencies embedded in institutional processes.

'In order to move forward you have to define the entire government as the enterprise. That's going to require agencies to do things significantly different than they've done in the past.'

Such changes aren't going to happen overnight.

Which may be just fine with the public. A recent survey for the Council for Excellence in Government found that while 73 percent of citizens polled support making e-government a high priority, they also want it done properly and methodically. About 65 percent of those surveyed want government to move slowly enough to ensure that major issues are resolved, especially security and privacy.

'You don't change [centuries] of Gutenberg-based process to a post-Gutenberg age in a year,' Education Department CIO Craig Luigart said. 'I think over the next five years we'll see significant movement.'WHO: National Business Center at the Interior Department

What: The Federal Personnel/Payroll System, which provides services for approximately 180,000 federal employees at Interior, the Education Department, the Social Security Administration and other agencies.

Description: To upgrade FPPS' character-based interface to a graphical user interface'with Internet access and a GUI query tool'the center selected Jacada for Java from Jacada Ltd. of Atlanta.

The center was satisfied with the core functionality of its IBM Corp. mainframe application, said Michael Colburn, chief of the center's Products and Services Applications Planning and Technology Group. But the Jacada tool, which runs on the company's own platform-independent Jacada Server, generates Java code without interfering with the function of the mainframe application.

A pilot program at NBC offices in Denver is nearly complete; plans call for a full Web version for more than 20,000 users.

Upshot: NBC reduced costs and increased production. 'Essentially what we've done,' Colburn said, 'is take a great application and make it greater.'WHO: Housing and Urban Development Department

What: The Real Estate Management System, which tracks and provides information on HUD's insured and assisted properties.

Description: HUD hired American Technology Systems Inc. of Minneapolis to build REMS, a Web system serving more than 1,400 HUD employees.

The system, implemented in 1998 after six months of development, stores data on a property's location, size, ownership and financing, and assistance contracts. Users can specify up to 50 criteria when requesting information to generate reports on demand.

In 1999, HUD added Actuate eReporting Server from Actuate Corp. of San Francisco as a reporting tool. The user interface, written with Cold Fusion from Allaire Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., runs under Netscape Server on a Sun Microsystems Corp. server, said project manager Jeff Carnicom. The Cold Fusion app interfaces via C++ tags and Actuate API to eReporting Server, which runs on a Sun Enterprise 3000 server. Actuate then communicates with the reporting database server, running on a separate Sun server.

Upshot: REMS provides HUD and end users with a single source of property information, resulting in consistent data, Carnicom said.

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