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GAO: Administration Too Optimistic On Success Of E-Government

The investigative arm of Congress gave the White House Office of Management and Budget mixed grades in achieving 91 objectives originally defined in 25 initiatives.

The General Accounting Office told a House subcommittee Wednesday that the administration might have been overly optimistic about achieving one of the President Bush's management priorities: E-government.

Overall, the GAO--Congress' investigative arm--gave the White House Office of Management and Budget mixed grades in achieving the 91 objectives originally defined for the 25 OMB-sponsored E-government initiatives.

"Given that OMB's stated criteria in choosing these initiatives included their likelihood of deployment in 18 to 24 months, the substantial number of objectives that are still unmet or only partially met indicates that making progress on these initiatives is more challenging than OMB may have originally anticipated," said Linda Koontz, GAO's information management issues director, in remarks prepared for delivery to the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and the Census.

Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for E-government and IT, said in her prepared testimony thyat agencies managing the initiatives have confronted common obstacles previously experienced in other transformation efforts, including procurement, acquisition, regulatory, cultural, and budgetary issues. "None of these obstacles were unexpected," she said. "Because E-government is not the work of managing existing processes and investments, but rather working to transform old practices into new solutions, the challenge to deliver greater results to the citizen requires sustained management."

To date, Koontz said, 33 of the E-government objectives have been fully or substantially achieved; 38 have been partially achieved; and for 17, no significant progress has been made. In addition, three of the objectives no longer apply because they've been found to be impractical or inappropriate.

Koontz cited the portal as an example of an initiative that had made good progress in achieving its objectives. As of February, allowed prospective grants applicants to find and apply for a total of 835 grant opportunities at 29 grant-making agencies. As another success, she cited the Integrated Acquisition Environment, which created a single point of registration and validation for vendors and a directory of interagency contracts that currently references 16,000 contracts.

A contrasting example she gave was Project Safecom, managed by the Department of Homeland Security with a fiscal 2004 budget of $26 million. Project Safecom is to serve as the umbrella program with government to help local, tribal, state, and federal public-safety agencies improve public-safety response through more efficient, interoperable wireless communications. In her 70-page written testimony, Koontz noted that the project has pursued a number of activities since Homeland Security took control of it in May that are intended to lay the groundwork for future interoperability. Specifically, she said, Homeland Security established a governance structure for the project that includes executive and advisory committees to formalize collaboration with stakeholders. The department has also conducted several planning conferences that have provided an opportunity for stakeholders to modify program goals and the tasks planned to address them.

Collaboration among agencies to create an E-government program doesn't assure that they'll be universally accepted by other agencies once implemented. Martin Wagner, associate administrator of the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been a driving force behind the E-authentication initiative, an online identification validation service that provides tools to allow for uniform application of identity management across government. "While we have made great strides, we still face a few challenges," Wagner told the panel. "Currently there is a lack of implementation-ready agency E-government applications that are ready to use E-authentication and reluctance of agency applications to use E-authentication. However, we are confident that OMB's leadership--pending pilot results and delivery of the final architecture--will encourage a more rapid migration and utilization of the initiative on the part of agencies and CSPs (credential service providers)."

Evans, the highest-ranking IT executive in government, defended the presidential E-government initiatives as having delivered measurable results to citizens. More is to come. "Through the analysis of the federal enterprise architecture," she said, "we have launched five task forces which are laying the foundation for future opportunities to improve service, reduce costs and identify duplicative investments."

For all E-government initiatives, GAO recommended that OMB should focus on achievable objectives that address customer needs, maintain management stability through executive commitment, collaborate effectively with partner agencies and stakeholders, drive transformational changes in business processes, and implement effective funding strategies.

"Initiatives that have overcome these challenges have generally met with success in achieving their objectives," Koontz said, "whereas initiatives that have had problems dealing with these challenges have made less progress."

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