E-gov teams get creative

Having a board of directors helps focus project members on the difficult topic of funding.

'HHS' Charles Havekost

Henrik G. DeGyor

Project leaders working on the E-Grants Quicksilver initiative recognized early that they could overcome many e-government barriers by spreading the work among participating agencies.

Charles Havekost, the program's leader from the Health and Human Services Department, enlisted high-ranking executives from the project's agencies to form a board of directors. The aim was to encourage involvement in E-Grants, Havekost said. But the invitation to the board had some top-level kick; it came from HHS secretary Tommy Thompson.

It also helped focus project members on the difficult topic of funding. 'The idea was the members would be buying their seat at the executive board,' Havekost said.

The board meets monthly to discuss projects, contract awards, outcomes, deliverables, timetables and expenditures, he said.

Havekost detailed the board's inner workings during a meeting in Washington last month of the Industry Advisory Council's E-Government Shared-Interest Group.

A ways to go

The shift to e-government is far from complete, federal officials said at the meeting, and the teams working on the 25 Quicksilver projects continue to seek ways to prod their initiatives forward.

'Agencies need to step out of their individualism and look at the larger issue,' said Laura Callahan, deputy CIO at the Homeland Security Department. 'We need to deliver results that are for the common good, which is a different shift than most traditional federal agencies are used to.'

Callahan, who moderated the panel of four Quicksilver project managers and one agency e-government director, said agencies need to stop defending the old way they built systems and see how work can be shared across agencies.

The other panelists agreed with Havekost that setting up a governance structure is an important step to overcoming challenges.

Oscar Morales, project director for the Environmental Protection Agency's Online Rulemaking initiative, said EPA has set up a hierarchy of the participant agencies to manage the project. The project has a board with 12 agencies represented, 10 of which have legacy systems that may be shut down. Despite the governing board, EPA mainly relies on cooperation to get things done, Morales said.

EPA also has set up seven subcommittees to handle specific issues such as module oversight, legal matters, communication with the rest of government and the public. There is also an Extensible Markup Language group to develop data standards, Morales said.

'Each subcommittee is led by a partner agency and includes 10 to 30 members from all partner agencies,' Morales said.

EPA's CIO, Kim Nelson, also holds a meeting with agency CIOs twice a year to keep them updated on the progress of the initiative, he said.

Communication is the key to making any e-government project work, Morales said. His staff has met with more than 50 officials throughout government to gain support for an electronic rule-making system to be used by all agencies.

'It is important to get that face time to discuss what is e-government and how and why it is important,' Morales said.


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