Like marriage, e-gov success starts with

Howard Nevin

There's a saying, 'You can't direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.' Maybe that's the underlying message in the efforts for e-government. So how do you adjust the sails?

Starting last July, Mark Forman, the associate director for IT and electronic government at the Office of Management and Budget, has given many presentations on the theme of achieving the vision of e-government. He has some interesting points: for example, that success will require clear definition of governance, roles and responsibilities, and that the government needs objective measures of success. He stresses the need for change management, systems modernization and avoiding a too-narrow focus on IT infrastructure'a recurring agency pitfall.

And John Sindelar, deputy associate administrator of the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy, has made similarly provocative comments.

'E-government cannot be accomplished by maintaining business as usual,' Sindelar said at one seminar. His comments were more pointed, and e-gov needs pointedness.

Simply mandating the achievement of e-gov is meaningless. It must be overwhelmingly accepted and endorsed as a governmentwide fait accompli. There is no room for holdouts. You can't do business as usual by any definition.

What's surprising is how long this idea has been around. I am one of many who have been proposing e-government for years. Nearly seven years ago, I wrote a white paper on enterprise America, as I called e-gov then, in which, somewhat simplistically, I described what an online government might look like in terms of applications, back office, communications and networks, and security. The paper identified issues now being addressed seriously by agencies, such as architectures and how to work across government.

Then, as now, the way to funding e-gov initiatives must be multiagency or departmentwide. This reduces the potential for overlap and duplication'one pot of money, one working solution. In fact, agency brass must scrupulously review new initiatives to avoid duplication.

Objectives for e-gov projects should be nonnegotiable. They must become part of the job description for everyone. Make participants accountable for success or failure, and you'll get people involved.

Agency managers must figure out how to provide a common architecture and communication infrastructure to service e-gov projects.

The President's Management Agenda has refreshed the e-gov drive. The technology has matured to where it's easier to build common solutions. I also sense a lot of heart in agency employees, but they need to believe that what they are working for is achievable and really wanted.

Gandhi changed the course of nations when he said, 'I won't.' Think what federal IT professionals could do if each were to say, 'I will.' Over the past few years, I've worked with the manufacturing, financial services, logistics and distribution industries'all businesses in critical need of overhaul because of business and economic pressures. Where the employees in those companies said, 'Yes, I will,' they did.

Believe me, e-gov is achievable. 'I will,' uttered and meant, can be the great motivator of collective success and the spirit that can adjust the sails.

Howard Nevin has more than 30 years of experience in federal IT. E-mail him at

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