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Collaboration In The Federal Government: Helping The Worker-Bees To 'Get It'

Internet technologies are expected to streamline service delivery to citizens, reduce paperwork, and improve management of joint intragovernmental programs.
Last month, the Bush administration unveiled a plan to create multiagency teams to develop and deploy 23 major E-government initiatives that will use Internet-related technologies to streamline service delivery to citizens; reduce paperwork for businesses; improve management of joint federal, state, and local programs; and apply commercial best practices to improve government operating efficiency. Though in the planning stages well before the terrorist attacks, the tragic events created an environment in Washington that makes implementation of these cross-agency initiatives more acceptable. "The Sept. 11 incidents put a little firecracker under government to get it moving in a more aggressive way," says Lee Cooper, VP of federal government sales for computer maker and consulting firm Unisys Corp.

The events of Sept. 11 have encouraged bureaucrats and their bosses to cooperate in ways not often seen in Washington. For the most part, federal departments and agencies rarely collaborated in the development of IT systems and networks. "It's not that they don't want to work together, but it's more of a matter of that 'We don't want to use it if it's not invented here,' " says Ray Bjorklund, VP for consulting services at Federal Sources, a market research firm focused on public sector IT. "Nobody ever forced them to collaborate; they never saw the need for it," Bjorklund says. "Agencies developed their own capabilities, and they operated quite well, thank you." The government had bred a culture of IT bureaucrats who were well intentioned, but failed to see the big picture in terms of collaboration. "The worker-bee level didn't quite get it," Bjorklund says.

A major aspect of the E-government project, administered by the Office of Management and Budget, is how it gets agencies to collaborate. Each initiative is managed by one department or agency, with other agencies participating in the system's development. This way, not only is a standard solution that can be used throughout the government created, but the process encourages multidepartmental buy-in. For instance, the initiative to develop a system to handle online access to governmental loans is headed by the Department of Education, but departments such as Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development--other agencies involved in governmental loans--will help create the system.

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