He manages the e-gov managers
- By Jason Miller
- Apr 22, 2003
Cameron Findlay, E-Government's Chief Counsel
Cameron Findlay says his technology expertise is limited to his years with a law practice where he became the de facto webmaster for his law firm's site. So when the Office of Management and Budget tapped Findlay, deputy secretary of Labor, as the E-Government Subcommittee chairman on the President's Management Council, it was hardly because of his technical savvy.
Rather, OMB former deputy director for management Mark Everson sought a more indispensable quality in Findlay: dispute resolution. 'Mark asked me to chair the subcommittee because tempers were running high, and I was someone who could cool tempers a little,' Findlay said.
From his seat at the head of the table, Findlay helps to oversee one of the five items on the President's Management Agenda as a combination manager and judge.
Besides leading the E-Government Subcommittee, Findlay is the No. 2 official at the Labor Department, where he develops and manages the department's $59 billion budget.
Before his deputy secretary post, Findlay was a partner in the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown and Wood of New York, where he practiced regulatory, antitrust and appellate law.
He has a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University, a master's in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
GCN staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Findlay by phone.GCN: Discuss the role and focus of the E-Government Subcommittee of the President's Management Council.
FINDLAY: The way I describe the E-Government Subcommittee is as part board of directors and part appellate court. We are a board of directors in the sense that we follow progress of the presidential initiatives on e-government. We hold them to milestones, and we approve budgets.
We are an appellate court in the sense that we are there to resolve disputes between agencies or between an agency and the Office of Management and Budget.GCN: Why were you asked to be the chairman?
FINDLAY: Why I was picked is a question I will always wonder about. I was asked to do it not because of any great technical background or any great experience with e-government, but rather because of a perceived ability to bring parties together and reach reasonable accommodations.
The reason former OMB deputy director for management Mark Everson asked me to do it was because he felt tempers were running high and I was someone who could cool tempers a little bit.GCN: Why were tempers running high?
FINDLAY: I think that there was built-in tension because OMB had approved money for agencies to put in their budgets for IT projects in the past, and many months or years hence, OMB came back in the guise of OMB associate director for IT and e-government Mark Forman to say, 'Wait a second, stop what you are working on. We are going to look at this in a comprehensive and sensible way, and we want to you contribute that money to a governmentwide project.'
It is much more difficult to claw money back from an agency than it is never to have given the agency money in the first place.GCN: What types of issues has the subcommittee dealt with over the past year?
FINDLAY: We began by trying to categorize the 25 presidential e-government initiatives as to whether they required full President's Management Council participation or could be handled by a smaller number of agencies.
We placed each of the initiatives in one of three categories. The first is called a PMC-led initiative, and we categorized three projects in that area: Safecom, E-Authentication and Disaster Management.
The second category was initiatives that could be handled by a relatively small number of agencies, say five to seven, and would require only intermittent PMC involvement. The vast majority of the projects are in this category.
And then the third category covers initiatives that really are related to one agency'E-Tax, for example, since it is strictly a Treasury Department initiative.
At the most recent couple of meetings, we have taken on the job of determining whether there are other opportunities for consolidation in the federal government.GCN: How does the subcommittee view the overall progress of the projects?
FINDLAY: Without going into each project, it is fair to say that the speed with which they are developing varies widely.
There are some that have progressed pretty well, like the one my agency is working on, GovBenefits, while there are others not even at the stage of having an approved business plan or approved budget.
We have sent some projects back to the drawing board to come up with better business plans and budgets.GCN: Can you tell me which ones were sent back?
FINDLAY: I don't want to single out the ones that we have determined need more work.
There is one'the Enterprise Human Resources Initiative, which would be an enterprise architecture for all federal government human resources functions'that is clearly a good idea. But it turned out to be a very complicated idea, and we have continually been fiddling with this initiative to get it ready to go.GCN: Why is the HR project so complicated?
FINDLAY: I think it is both that there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and also because there are differing views within the federal government as to how best to do this.
There are a number of personnel systems in the federal government, not surprisingly, and there are some agencies that are skeptical they can be brought into this initiative.GCN: What is the subcommittee doing to address the shortage of federal workers in IT positions?
FINDLAY: We've asked Mark Forman to look at this issue and come up with a proposal to deal with the dearth of project managers. It is an issue we are focused on.
It is an issue we have batted around during the last few meetings and frankly has fallen a little bit by the wayside because we have been so focused on categorizing the initiatives, getting good business plans and setting the funding plans. It is a perpetual agenda item at our meetings. We do not have a deadline for making any decisions on this.GCN: OMB has begun work on the next wave of e-government initiatives, which it is calling consolidation projects. What is the subcommittee's role?
FINDLAY: OMB as part of the 2004 budget process identified several possible additional e-government initiatives.
Some examples are data and statistics development between the Commerce Department's Census Bureau and the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics and similar sorts of agencies throughout the government. There are a lot of activities performed in providing data pertaining to the current state of the nation, so this was an area identified as a possible initiative.
Another example is criminal investigation systems. The Justice Department is seeking money for these sorts of systems but so are Treasury and the Environmental Protection Agency.
For public health monitoring, the departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs have both asked for money for systems to track the spread of disease.
And several agencies, including Labor, sought money for IT projects that would help essentially get money out the door'Social Security, unemployment checks, veterans benefits, those sorts of things.
We recognize there may be opportunities, and we don't know how good the opportunities may be, so we are in the process of figuring out how we are going to evaluate these opportunities.
At our last meeting, we talked about forming teams that would be led by OMB but would have representatives from all the agencies to do the analysis.
There has been some concern that such a model will be difficult to implement because agencies simply cannot spare the huge numbers of people that would be required to do these analyses.GCN: How much of a difference is the President's Management Agenda scorecard making?
FINDLAY: I think the scorecard is making an enormous difference. It sounds simple to grade agencies with a red, yellow or green score on each of these initiatives. But I can tell you that at Labor it has helped us identify what to work on and achieve progress.