Row Forms Over Federal E-Government Projects

Congressional investigators say the Bush administration is light on project details. A White House official says best practices are being followed.
The investigative arm of Congress and the chairman of the Senate panel that oversees federal IT policy are criticizing the Bush administration for how it's implementing its showcase E-government initiatives.

A 70-page report, requested by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, contends that an Office of Management and Budget task force selected 24 interagency E-government initiatives without first reviewing complete business plans for each project. The initiatives are aimed at improving government services by integrating diverse agency operations using IT. The GAO also said the OMB task force failed to collect the information upfront needed to monitor each project's implementation.

But the administration's point man on IT, Mark Forman, says, "The GAO is working off an inaccurate benchmark." Forman is associate director for IT and E-government at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

"Despite the importance that OMB attached to collaboration and customer focus in its E-government strategy, fewer than half of the initiatives' initial business cases addressed these topics," says Linda Koontz, the GAO's director of information-management issues. The agency pointed out that only eight of the 23 initiatives' business cases delineated risk mitigation and collaboration strategies and only nine defined customer needs. All 23 did identify expected benefits the initiatives will offer.

The report elicited a rebuke from Lieberman. "It troubles me that OMB decided upon its signature E-government initiatives without considering the very factors that it has identified as essential to successful E-government," says Lieberman, D-Conn., who relinquishes his chairmanship next month when the GOP regains control of the Senate.

But, says Forman, "We used a commercial E-strategy best-practice approach. It's all documented in both the president's FY03 budget and E-government strategy, including the use of a rigorous multiattribute scoring algorithm to pick initiatives that met the strategic criteria. This is the same approach that is in the key textbooks for E-strategy."

Forman says the 24 initiatives aren't new systems, but consolidations of redundant and overlapping projects that were under way or proposed. "They were the 24 initiatives, out of an original list of over 300, that reflected the best opportunities to simplify convoluted government initiatives, reduce redundant paperwork burden, and save money by consolidating redundant efforts within 18 to 24 months," he says. "This approach was explained in detail in the E-government strategy, available at the Web site."

The GAO report noted that the OMB didn't provide GAO with all the facts it requested. Forman explained that OMB policy isn't to release internal budgeting documents drafted before decisions are made because they don't reflect ultimate spending decisions.

The GAO maintains that, based on the data it has received, the OMB can't assure its initiatives are on schedule or achieving their goals without accurate cost, schedule, and performance information.