Policies and Practices: Make or break for e-government

Jason Miller

If you listen closely, you can hear the drum the Office of Management and Budget is beating for e-government. Over the next 11 months, it will grow louder and stronger.

By July 2004, it will be clear how fully agencies have taken to the Bush administration's e-government vision. That will mark the most critical time for e-government since the effort began.

In recent months, OMB has been pointing to next summer as the culmination date for all 25 Quicksilver initiatives and the five items of the President's Management Agenda.

Mark Forman, OMB's e-government czar, has said 80 percent of all e-government projects should be migrated to the new cross-agency system by then.

Clay Johnson, the OMB deputy director for management who many credit with the idea of the PMA, said he expects 85 percent of all agency scores under White House's scorecard system to at least be yellow by the same time.

And Norman Lorentz, OMB's chief technology officer, said many agencies likely will be green or on the verge of green by next summer.

'The first two years we spent planning, and now we are in the implementing phase,' Johnson said. 'Now the next year or so, we will demonstrate tangible progress. The proof will be in the pudding.'

In addition to these deadlines, the administration is keenly aware of how the upcoming presidential election will take the focus away from e-government and other less politically exciting initiatives.

All of these expectations also put pressure on agencies to deliver.

One e-government project manager agreed that the next year is critical. But the agency official is not sure if the projects will be finished by OMB's deadline.

Still, OMB is turning up the heat, the project manager said. It expects agencies to live up to their migration plans, which detail the systems that will be turned off in 2004 as cross-agency systems swing into operation. Officials last month met with the CIO Council to discuss how those plans will affect agencies.

The migration plans are the final piece to the e-government puzzle. For these projects to succeed, agencies must migrate to the new joint system, turn off legacy applications that OMB deemed duplicative and establish the operation and maintenance infrastructure of the new system.

Should the projects fall short of expectations, or if the PMA comes in more red than yellow, the administration likely will have to wait until after the election to put the pieces together again.

E-government disappointment also would send a significant message to industry, some observers said. One industry expert said the next year is, in some ways, a referendum on the administration's e-government approach.

But if the projects or the PMA do not find success, it wouldn't sound the death knell for e-government. This isn't the Clinton administration's Reinventing Government effort, which died when Vice President Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election.

The E-Government Act of 2002 firmly instilled these theories into agencies and permanently created an e-government official at OMB. But the question is whether agencies view the administration's e-government process as made of cement or paper.

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