Forman: The changes will touch feds, citizens and businesses

Mark Forman

Henrik G. DeGyor

Mark Forman, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and IT, joined the administration in June 2001 to lead efforts toward e-government. Since then, his office has developed the first wave of consolidation projects, called Quicksilver, and set the table for others by demanding that agency leaders submit business cases that adhere to the President's Management Agenda and reflect Forman's familiar rallying cry of 'unify and simplify.'

With the 25 Quicksilver projects entering the home stretch and the next set of consolidations on the agenda, Forman talked recently about the future of e-government. GCN staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Forman in his office at OMB.

GCN: How do you define transformation, and can you offer some specific examples of what transactional e-government will look like?

FORMAN: It is largely a government that is going to operate faster. That means probably a different work environment for the government employees, probably one that allows them to have the tools and the authorities to perform their jobs quicker and in a manner that drives up results.

At the end of the day, to get to transformation there must be at least some interaction between e-government and at least one other item on the President's Management Agenda: human capital oftentimes, sometimes financial management, performance integration oftentimes. So an agency is going to show up on the scorecard as green in e-government plus one other area, and that other area is where they are working hard.

In those areas, you will see a work environment where government employees have at their fingertips financial and performance data, and it will look different to the citizen in the area of results.

In the business arena, you will see a lot more electronic data exchanged using open standards, and computer reporting with digital signatures or electronic signatures as opposed to very form-dependent processes. Even today, if you look at the discussion three years ago on the implementation of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, the concept was very much an e-forms concept as opposed to an electronic data exchange concept.

There is a lot more integration of federal, state and local governments in terms of using the Web to promote services. There is a lot more compilation of different interfaces with citizens: There is some relationship of finding information online, plus getting a form; there is finding the information and picking a service. You couldn't do that in the physical world.

GCN: Is the vision only 18 months at a time, or is there a longer-term planning strategy?

FORMAN: The transformation framework for e-government was laid out in the management scorecard. We knew there was a certain set of chronic problems and then there were these cross-agency needs. It's pretty much a two-year planning horizon, and that's because of the way we budget. There are organizational processes; there is architecture and frameworks we want to put in place. The infrastructure-building is pretty much done for the next cycle. That will see incremental improvements. The question is what do we do now that we have an infrastructure?

GCN: Will citizens and federal employees see the transformation in the short term or long term?

FORMAN: Citizens will see results in physical and visible changes as a result of e-government initiatives. They will see services accessible online. But the biggest results they will see will be faster, better government decisions. They will see a higher quality of what they see now.

The government employees will see a pretty different work environment. They will physically see things like a Web portal to track their human resources data. They will see a lot more use of Web-enabled systems to do their work. They will see a lot more data at their fingertips and streamlined business processes.

What drives a lot of the different results is the transformation in business processes and organization. Ultimately, in order to get better results, you have to have higher organizational effectiveness. Web-enablement is just putting services online and that doesn't really transform government.

GCN: You mentioned the government needs to use open standards. What does that mean?

FORMAN: There are open standards, and hanging our hat on them is not a fact but a requirement because of Extensible Markup Language. If you want to communicate with business'and remember most of the government's transactions are with the business community'you have to use electronic business XML and other open standards.

There also is identification and identity management. Authentication and electronic signatures are a global e-business area, and any country that is online has to consider how to authenticate, identify and sign when you are online. And there are a couple of movements, such as the Liberty Alliance and public-key infrastructure. There are standards groups that represent fast ways to integrate across different platforms. We will try to be compliant with those because we want to integrate across platforms.

GCN: Is the term e-government outmoded? Should we start calling it something else because it is a component of a larger picture?

FORMAN: We discussed this with the global panel at the E-Gov 2003 conference, and the overall feeling was you need a very simple one-word rally cry to explain to people what we are doing. You can't say we are focusing on government. You need to say we are focusing our resources on e-government, and people understand that. As long as there is a need to focus, you need the term to help focus.

GCN: In terms of other processes, such as database management, are there technology problems that still need to be solved?

FORMAN: Data mining and statistical analysis have been around and applied to government for decades now. One question is whether tools should be improved. The other question is, should the applicability of those tools be brought over to new areas, and how do we do that?

Searches for information is one example, facilitating access to information for the citizenry like the search engine for FirstGov, which is undergoing continual improvement because there is a huge demand.

GCN: Acquisition officials have said procurement must be a part of up-front IT planning. How should acquisition planning be a part of the IT business case structure?

FORMAN: Acquisition planning should be part of the business case structure. We emphasize performance-based contracting. We emphasize other contract-based approaches besides cost-plus because we believe cost-plus forces government to bear more risk. We prefer firm-fixed price. We like competition. We do not like bundling. We like pulling in small businesses to compete.

GCN: Is there anything OMB can do to tell agencies every project must have an acquisition person or business cases need a top-level sign-off from a procurement executive?

FORMAN: Sign-off is not what's in there. Having an acquisition strategy is required for business cases. Part of what is graded is contract administration. My experience is most of the cost risk is borne during the administration of the contract, not during the award of the contract.

We are protected in two ways. There are some extra questions we ask if it is a cost-plus contract, and there are requirements to use earned-value management to ensure appropriate performance-based contract administration. Earned-value management is a contract administration methodology we also are using as a program administration methodology.

It ties spending to results as opposed to tying spending to resources consumed. It is a pay-for-performance type of framework. Our approach is making this milestone-based.

GCN: Do you ever expect to ask for an executive sign-off for contracts?

FORMAN: Would we require it? I've learned never say never.

GCN: You've said many of the 25 e-government projects likely will be meeting their third iteration in the next 12 to 15 months, and many of those in their third iteration will include transactional features. What remains to be done?

FORMAN: Most of them finish up over the next few months, and in fiscal 2004 most of them will migrate to their joint system. One of the big differences with the e-government projects is that originally we thought that when we built it we would be done. But we found out it will take us a year to shut off the old stuff and migrate to the new systems. E-Payroll made that clear for all the other projects.

As that became clear, we started to focus on migration plans and when we would see the growth curve in results.

Something else that needs to be done, which came out of the Hart-Teeter Poll the Council for Excellence in Government did, is the communication, marketing if you will, to the average person explaining where they can go to get services. Last year 37 million Americans came to FirstGov; this year we may hit 60 million based on the current path. How do we get to 100 million? There should be some communication of where to go to get service.

GCN: Do you see something like the ads on television for government information from Pueblo, Colo.?

FORMAN: Absolutely. Those ads were put on by the Federal Consumer Information Center, which is now a part of the Office of Citizen Services. There are some visionary people at the General Services Administration and on the Hill who have been supporting this and who understand this. One of the reasons we need the Office of Citizen Services is that, before e-government, the federal government never had to reach out to the average citizen except to pay taxes. Now e-government requires that you are able to communicate with the average citizen.

GCN: Do you see your office handling this effort?

FORMAN: There are requirements in the E-Government Act of 2002 for me in terms of making the public aware that we will be working with GSA's Office of Citizen Services. I will not do it, but I'll work heavily with them.

GCN: The GPEA deadline is coming up in October. What's going to happen to agencies that are not compliant?

FORMAN: We're looking to facilitate their efforts and help them. We've come to the recognition that there are an awful lot of forms that are on track to go online and that we've moved beyond the original GPEA's pull-down-the-form-off-the-Internet concept. And so now we're looking at XML-based forms.

GCN: So an agency that comes in 25 percent compliant or opts out is not going to have its funding cut or necessarily get a red grade in e-government because of it?

FORMAN: You have to look at this not as: I've got 5,000 forms, and I'm only going to have 4,000 of those 5,000 forms online. You have to look at this as: I have 5,000 sets of data that we need to run the government. Now, because of XML, that doesn't mean that I have to collect that data 5,000 times. What we're trying to look at is, how much of those 5,000 forms worth of data do I already have? And it may turn out that I've put 3,000 forms online, but I've got 4,500 forms worth of data.

It's a question of reusing the data. When you start to look at that you find that the hub is
e-authentication. I have to have some way of knowing and providing access to that common data in line with authentication. And to that extent, what we're hoping is that we don't have to have all the forms independently put online to achieve the value of the paperwork elimination act.

I think over the past year there's been so much change, on the one hand, because of XML and the extensibility of the types of data items and e-forms. One the other hand there's been a rapid explosion of e-forms in the federal government and at the same time a consolidation to work with three basic providers of e-forms. None of that was foreseen in the GPEA environment of five years ago. My view is: Let's build on that.

GCN: To what extent are Quicksilver projects and the next set of consolidations a template for other e-gov work?

FORMAN: There are three templates. One is consolidation around the citizen [such as the Quicksilver projects]. And the template there goes something along the lines of: Build a joint solution that simplifies processes for the end user'the citizen'do the re-engineering integration across agencies, and deploy and migrate.

There's a separate template for the lines-of-business consolidation. Within the realm of overlapping business cases, there are some innovative ideas, and there are legacy approaches that we're spending on, and there may be some not-too-innovative ideas where we may just be buying the same thing because we've got the vendor coming in and reselling it agency by agency.

The third area of consolidation is in office automation and infrastructure. And that's nuts-and-bolts, IRM work. Things like enterprise licenses, total-cost-of-ownership analysis'the nuts-and-bolts infrastructure work. And there are commercial ways to do that.

What you can say is that there's probably one template for e-gov initiatives that are, basically, where you have to look across the bureaucracy and find mirrored services from the perspective of the citizens' need.

There are others where we have multiple redundant programs, and they need an application process. That's the concepts of data architecture and XML, integrated forms. That's a second kind of template. There's a third template where you need some simplifier tools, as for disaster management or trade process streamlining. There's going to be a fourth template where you can do business process outsourcing.

GCN: What other e-government projects are you looking at, perhaps as a model for replication?

FORMAN: Off the top of my head, there are a lot. I think the Energy Department's I-Manage is a candidate because its a real sign that Energy has realized that to do good financial management it has to have project management.

It shows the department understands that its ability to manage its finances is tied to its ability to manage and control costs on the project. That was kind of a revelation.

GCN: How important to transformation is fixing the congressional and agency funding models?

FORMAN: Of course, we've asked for a larger pot of money in the e-gov fund so that we can move faster on these consolidation initiatives. And the E-Gov Act authorized that. We'd love to have the appropriators sign on to what we were trying to achieve.

Basically, what happened last year is, they cut our request and said we were right about consolidation'now go consolidate-out the savings so that you have the money to pay for the e-gov initiatives. And that was fine, that was a fair comment.

But what we found is that there are a lot of different hurdles to jump across in consolidating that funding into a managing partner. It's doable, but it's very paper-intensive. Certain agencies have report-and-wait requirements. So that slows everything down, as we had predicted. It slows it down a lot.

It would be good to address that by allowing either joint funding authority or using some of the cross-agency financing schemas. And we've asked for some ways to address that in the budget request.

GCN: If you were an agency manager, what would be your most important concerns?

FORMAN: I would totally understand my customers' needs. So if I'm working in the government-to-citizen arena I'd either get the data or create a focus group to get the data on the citizen needs.

If I'm in the government-to-business framework'a G2B portfolio'or the government-to-government arena, I would have focus groups; I don't think there's any question. If it's internal efficiency and effectiveness, I would have focus groups. That's the No. 1 thing, to really understand how to create value for the citizenry.

No. 2 that I'd keep in mind is that there's plenty of money being spent redundantly because any good idea has probably already been recognized by five or six federal employees. We do have a lot of bright federal employees.

GCN: What advice would you offer to e-gov managers?

FORMAN: My advice would be to clearly specify performance results, clearly define the work plan, make sure that you can deliver results to the partner agencies as well as to your customers because all the partner agencies are just trying to achieve results.

The fact that you're having a tough time sometimes working with partners is not totally that they want to do their own thing, but that they want to make sure that their constituency is served.

Security, of course, is key. And one of the things that we've seen work real well, in addition to focus groups, is to create an executive board. I'd say, 70 to 80 percent of the time that that's been very useful to e-gov programs.

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