Bush team homes in on systems oversight

Bush team homes in on systems oversight

Four OMB transformation targets

  • Service to individuals

  • Service to businesses

  • Intergovernmental affairs

  • Agency effectiveness

  • 'They're not people who are substituting for the CIO Council,' GSA's Emory Miller said of the members of the administration's e-government task force.

    As the settling-in dust begins to clear, a Bush administration strategy for overseeing the government's information technology efforts has begun to emerge.

    The evolving IT oversight structure absorbs some of the management tiers put in place by President Clinton but adds new elements of the Bush administration's own creation.

    So far, the efforts seem to be making inroads with the government's systems chiefs. In part, the early goodwill between the Chief Information Officers Council and the Office of Management and Budget appears to be attributable to the efforts of Mark Forman, the administration's recently hired associate director for information technology and electronic government.

    Forman is leading the Interagency Task Force, a temporary group set up to outline projects for the CIO Council and review spending on systems projects governmentwide.

    'Mark Forman has a different approach. Mark has come up with a refreshing perspective where he values the organizations that are in place,' said Emory Miller, outreach director of the CIO Council and director of IT professional development at the General Services Administration.

    Morale among council members, Miller said, is at an all-time high. There's a sense that it's not us against them, he said of the council's relationship with the new administration's OMB chiefs.

    Let's get along

    Melanie Leschnik, liaison for business services for the council, described the task force's work as a 'high-intensity, quick-hit' effort to wed the council's ideas with OMB's direction.

    'We're still trying to figure out how that relationship will work,' Leschnik said. 'Our whole relationship is in the process of evolving.'

    The CIO Council does not view the task force as its adversary, Miller said, describing the new group's members as subject matter experts. 'They're not people who are substituting for the CIO Council,' he said.

    Meanwhile, OMB also has tapped a third group, the President's Management Council, to play a role in setting the government's IT agenda. In a nod to the corporate world, each of the council's members'deputy secretaries for the government's major agencies'has been anointed chief operating officer.

    The council, which is under the aegis of OMB deputy director Sean O'Keefe, will address management issues, including IT, on an agency-by-agency basis. The council will request input from agencies' CIOs, chief financial officers and procurement executives.

    The task force, however, would appear to be the group destined to have the most far-reaching effect on federal systems efforts.

    In mid-July, OMB asked all the major agencies to assign e-government leaders to serve on the task force. The initial marching orders call for the group to identify must-do projects in four areas: service to individuals, service to businesses, intergovernmental affairs, and internal efficiency and effectiveness.

    OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels spearheaded the task force's creation. In a July 18 memorandum, 'A Citizen-Centered E-Government: Developing the Action Plan,' Daniels said he decided to create the task force because there were disagreements over the use of President Bush's proposed e-government fund.

    The group's main goal is 'to identify high-payoff e-government opportunities and set in motion a transformation of government around customer needs,' Daniels said.

    The fund will be used as seed money for at least one transformational e-government initiative in each of the four IT areas, Daniels said.

    The task force also will seek ways to leverage the budgets that agencies already have earmarked for IT and modernization efforts.

    'The task force is taking a very thorough review of all IT spending to understand what works, what doesn't and how to better leverage the government's dollars for achieving real reform through technology,' said David Marin, spokesman for the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy.

    In his fiscal 2002 budget proposal, Bush recommended that the government establish a $100 million fund to spend on e-government initiatives over three years.

    More convincing

    That plan, however, has hit a snag on Capitol Hill. The House Appropriations Committee last month approved only $5 million instead of the requested $20 million in first-year funding.

    'Agencies and OMB have not convinced the Appropriations Committee that there's a need for these programs,' said Dan Heinemeier, president of the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association in Arlington, Va.

    Agencies need to take e-government programs beyond the research and planning stage, GSA's Miller said, adding that he hopes the new task force will jump-start many of the CIO Council's efforts and help convince lawmakers that the e-government fund is worthwhile.

    Miller said the task force is looking at 'beneficial activities that can be accomplished quickly.'

    The task force began meeting last month and plans to finish its action plan by October. The CIO Council then would use the task force's plan as a road map for moving forward on specific initiatives.

    Beyond completion of the initial report, it is unclear how long the administration will maintain the task force.

    Despite the administration's efforts to focus on e-government, there is skepticism.

    Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), while lauding the creation of the task force and Forman's appointment as a federal e-government point man, noted that there are more than 1,300 ongoing e-government projects across agencies. 'But we have no measurements of which projects are worthwhile,' he said in a statement.


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