INTERVIEW: Deborah Diaz, GSA's FirstGov chief
Next for e-gov: Integrate channels
Deborah Diaz has had a long career in technology. Now the deputy associate administrator for the General Services Administration's Office of FirstGov.gov, she said the challenge of making the portal the face of the government is her dream job.
Diaz provides technical leadership for the FirstGov office and develops public-private partnerships to improve federal services. She also works with state and local governments to incorporate their services into FirstGov.
Before joining GSA, Diaz worked for 12 years in foreign affairs agencies managing interagency initiatives for international business development, environmental technology joint ventures, and institutional and regulatory business reform projects. She developed a Web trade system using push technology for the Agency for International Development.
Diaz also worked in the private sector in management positions for several companies. She received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., and a master's in the same subject from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.
GCN staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Diaz at her Washington office.GCN: How do you envision the relationship between FirstGov and USA Service, one of the Office of Management and Budget's 24 e-government initiatives, evolving over the next 18 to 24 months?DIAZ:
FirstGov has taken on the responsibility of managing the USA Service e-gov initiative. The next generation of Web sites is actually the integration of all the different channels. It is what citizens are looking for, and this e-gov initiative will take Web sites, call centers and all different means of communicating, and tie them together.
It has an e-mail routing component to it, and when all the e-gov initiatives are in place, it will have the capability of doing integrated case management. The business process will start from the very beginning of contact, whether it is through a call center or Web site, and integrate it in a fashion that can be personalized. It could be incorporated in the process so even if you have payment due, you have a payment engine that can actually fulfill that transaction.GCN: What role will FirstGov play in the e-government initiatives?DIAZ:
All 24 e-gov initiatives will be tied into FirstGov. We are scoping out all the different architectures of the entire federal government. We are a partner with all the e-gov initiatives, some more than others.
We are integrating the framework and infrastructure of our vision and business plan with the different functions that the e-gov initiatives will be rolling out. Whatever application any of the initiatives rolls out has to get tied into FirstGov, so we go to as many partner meetings as possible. It goes back to [OMB associate director for IT and e-government] Mark Forman's vision of unify and simplify and have one place for citizens to find services.GCN: How difficult will it be to tie everything into FirstGov?DIAZ:
It will not be difficult. The technology is not the difficulty because of our standards and the fact we were governmentwide from the very beginning. The problem will be change management within the federal government and getting beyond the legal barriers and stovepipes that currently exist.
It is very difficult to get cross-agency collaboration particularly when there hasn't been money set aside or an incentive structure established to actually put projects on that path. FirstGov broke ground in creating that cross-agency collaboration. We came up with products and sets of best practices that other people are now using.
From its very beginning, we have been funded by all 24 members of the President's Management Council. Whenever you are doing anything new and you have to have change management, you want people to put something on the table and buy into the process. If they have money on the table, they will keep a keen interest in what is going on and they will make it work. That was the success of FirstGov that first year because of the level of interest and support at the highest levels on down.
We were able to quickly, and in a way never been done before, pull everything together in a very short time frame.GCN: Talk about the enhancements coming to FirstGov and the timetable for them.DIAZ:
We have just launched the redesign. That set the framework so that the user would get to any client group within three clicks. Whether it was a transaction or information, the content had to be recreated in-house'all 350 pages'and we actually looked at all the information and found navigable paths by user groups and broke them down into the three channels: the citizen group, business group and government-to-government group.
Soon we will procure an automated content management system. By doing that, you can then apply technology and have other people feed into your system. So if it is a local librarian or the Agriculture Department managing their content, it actually feeds into FirstGov.GCN: What has been the most difficult or most challenging part of FirstGov?DIAZ:
The budget process has been the hardest part because you have to pass the hat.GCN: How would you like to see FirstGov funded?DIAZ:
I think the whole IT community'whether for e-gov initiatives or FirstGov or anything else that advances new technology'should come up with a better system for funding. Whether it is one central pot that these types of projects can draw down on or deciding in advance which agency will do what and how money will be divided, they just have to come up with a better way to do it.
OMB is struggling with that right now. Mark Forman has made great progress in this area, but there still is no plan for funding.GCN: Have you ever had an agency not contribute to FirstGov?DIAZ:
It has been difficult, particularly this year. [Agencies have] had homeland security and IT needs that were not identified two years ago in their budgeting process. They recognize that by pooling resources and coming up with common standards and a common architecture, you could save so much money.
But it is difficult getting from point A to point B. That is the push back we are getting. Everyone recognizes the need and recognizes this is the thing to do; however, they have problems reconciling where the resources, both financial and human, are coming from.GCN: How much does each agency give to FirstGov?DIAZ:
It is done using an algorithm and is based on several factors. OMB comes up with this algorithm and looks at what the agency's IT budget is and how many people they have. It is not just divided by 24 and split up.GCN: Is the budget process getting easier for the e-government initiatives?DIAZ:
It is getting more attention. The judicial and congressional branches are beginning to understand'as the executive branch understands'the importance IT can play not only in bettering the lives of citizens, but in saving money. Other branches are recognizing this, so it will make the budget process easier. We will not have to sell it as much.GCN: How does your office measure FirstGov's success?DIAZ:
We always have debated the metrics of the Web site itself. Everyone measures by hits, but is that a true measure of success? It is not so much how many people are using it, but whether they are happy with what they're using and if they are satisfied with the information they are finding.
We went from having five people linking to FirstGov to now having more than 33,000 who think enough of FirstGov's value to automatically link back to us. Yahoo and Google direct users to us anytime a question comes up about Sept. 11. That is a high measure of our success.
The fact that we are able to change and evolve in a very quick fashion and be as responsive as we are is another measure of success. Every three months we come up with new products.
We are able to add new technologies and functions into our Web site. We do extensive research, we get validation from industry and then we get lots of buy-in from our cross-agency partners. Whatever we put in place is easily adoptable by anyone, which also is another way we measure success.