TechNews.com: Federal CIOs and the E-Gov Challenge
Guest: Mark Forman, President Bush's E-Gov Czar
Friday, March 7, 2003, 10:30 a.m. ET
| Cindy Webb |
The federal government faces increasing pressure to bolster its information technology systems to streamline the way U.S. agencies and departments share information and communicate with citizens. With President Bush proposing more than $59 billion for federal IT projects next year, the White House is expecting agencies to manage existing projects carefully and vet new ones even more rigorously.
Mark Forman, assistant director of IT and e-government at the Office of Management Budget, has been at the forefront of the White House's work to overhaul how the federal government uses and manages its IT infrastructure. Forman, who already chairs the federal CIO Council, was tapped this week to run the newly created Office of Electronic Government within OMB, which was created under an e-government reform act passed last year. You can view a list of current e-government projects online here (PDF).
Forman was online at 10:30 a.m. EST on Friday, March 7, to take questions about the challenges facing government chief information officers, plans for federal IT spending, and ways the private sector can aid the government's overall technology agenda. Washingtonpost.com reporter Cynthia L. Webb moderated the discussion.
An edited transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Cynthia L. Webb: Thanks to everyone who will be joining us today for our Live Online discussion with the OMB's Mark Forman. We will be getting started in a few more minutes. Keep your excellent questions coming.
Cynthia L. Webb: Good morning, Mark. Thanks again for joining us today. Just this week, President Bush announced plans for you to run the newly created Office of Electronic Government, in addition to your current roles. E-government has been your mantra since joining the president's staff. While it is a sweeping plan, what are a few of your top e-government priorities for the federal government?
Mark Forman: Good morning. Since we spend nearly $60 Billion on IT, we are by far the world's largest buyer and we should see large improvements in productivity as a result, as well as significant gains in strategic priorities such as IT security.
Cynthia L. Webb: Mark, e-government is a term that is used regularly in government circles. Could you explain exactly what e-government entails? We are not talking just putting documents online, are we?
Mark Forman: For the Administration, e-government means the use of digital technologies to transform government operations in order to improve effectiveness, efficiency, and service delivery. So, we are not really talking about putting documents on-line or "web-enablement," rather we are talking about making government significantly more productive and responsive.
Washington, D.C.: What budgetary powers will you hold with your new role?
Mark Forman: Management and budget decisions are highly integrated in the federal government under the Bush Administration, and the E-government Act locks that into statute by establishing the new office at OMB.
Silver Spring, Md.: What role will open source play in e-government?
Mark Forman: We are moving the federal government's computing architecture to a component-based model that will accommodate both J2EE and .Net, leveraging web services and open source solutions.
Philadelphia, Pa.: What efforts are in place to reach out to states to "coordinate" the overall U.S. e-government effort?
Mark Forman: We believe that there must be extensive work to ensure interoperability and cooperation between and within levels of government. So, we have aggressively reached out to states by:
-- Sharing representation on the federal CIO council and Natl. Assn. of State CIOs
-- Funding and integrating architecture work with NASCIO and local government representatives
-- Developing 5 cross agency e-government solutions to address key problems raised by state and local government representatives
-- Holding monthly conference calls to share information and discuss issues relating to IT
Cynthia L. Webb: So on the budget question, do you make direct decisions about how the federal government's IT dollars should be spent?
Mark Forman: Yes, my staff works jointly with budget examiners using the business case process we have set-up.
Washington, D.C.: What is your impression of Congress' support for e-government reform? I ask, because Congress recently slashed funding for e-government programs.
Mark Forman: Very strong. On the funding issue, Congress gave us more than we asked for on IT overall, and tasked us to consolidate funding rather than provide additional funds to accelerate consolidation around the citizen.
Cynthia L. Webb: Here is the Web site for the federal CIO Council: www.cio.gov
Clarksburg, Md.: How do you think the current and future administrations will use e-business to promote trade between the U.S. and Latin America? How do you see this fitting into current and upcoming free trade agreements?
Mark Forman: Clearly, supply chain management is a major element of e-business growth even as companies have cutback on IT spending plans. Government has to be able to do business in the language of e-business, and that means we need to move beyond paper based transactions for global trade. On the export side, this is the subject of an e-gov initiative (Intl. Trade Process Streamlining), on the export side this is the heart of the Customs Modernization effort. We work closely with our trading partners on both.
Cynthia L. Webb: You head the federal CIO Council. Federal CIOs among other government officials are being asked to justify their IT spending on particular projects to secure additional funding. How has this process been going? There seems to be a lot of concern among some staffers that the bar is continually being raised for them, though they have staffing shortages and other hurdles to deal with.
Mark Forman: There is a real staffing issue, but it is mostly a training or knowledge issue. We are improving the quality of government IT management, and we don't believe that you can spend as much as the federal government spends without proper management.
Cynthia L. Webb: As a follow-up to the reader's open source question, the topic of government entities both here and abroad using Linux or other open-source operating systems has gained momentum recently. Is your office looking at any of the more community-based efforts, such as Linux?
Mark Forman: Actually, we see Linux already gaining market share in the mid-tier, server purchases of the federal government.
Harrisburg, Pa.: If there is war and subsequent budget cutbacks, how much, if any, of the scheduled $59 billion in federal government information technology spending is at risk of being cut? Are most projects underway and would cutting them be very difficult at this point?
Mark Forman: I'd rather not speculate on that at this point.
Cynthia L. Webb: With news last year that your office would be reviewing spending of various agencies, there was a lot of concern in the private sector that there would be a negative impact on contracting opportunities. What is the status of this review and any insight you can offer to the government contracting community?
Mark Forman: I believe you are referring to our temporary restraint on the spending for infrastructure for the Dept of Homeland Security component agencies. This review is ongoing, but generally projects have been rationalized, not killed totally.
Cynthia L. Webb: For readers who are interested, more information on the state CIO organization, NASCIO, can be found here: https://www.nascio.org/
Vienna, Va.: Will the e-government system require a user login and will a fee be charged to users?
Mark Forman: Certain services will require login type procedures as part of security and privacy. On fees, we believe the taxpayers have already paid and are looking to reduce costs, not add fees.
Lyme, Conn.: What is the level of congressional input in your work? Are there information technology experts in Congress? And who are you seeking advice from in the legislative branch?
Mark Forman: There are Members of Congress, staff, the Library of Congresses Congressional Research Service, and of course the GAO, who have expertise. We work well together, and share insights and advice.
Cynthia L. Webb: We have another 30 minutes left in our discussion today. Readers, thanks for your great input so far!
Cynthia L. Webb: As a follow-up to the review of Homeland Security Department-related spending, what is the best thing for private contractors to do if they are interested in selling their wares to one of the agencies that is now part of the new department? There is a lot of confusion, I think, since there has been an impression that a chilling effect was in place on that type of spending.
Mark Forman: Well, I generally suggest that people talk to the CIO of the Department. As a new department, the CIO is defining the modernization blueprint that will govern bureau spending. That said, the CIO is also revising the DHS "report on IT spending" which will update the major programs and spending elements. That should be posted by April 1st at the omb.gov website, under the Presidents 2004 Budget.
Washington, D.C.: With OMB lowering the funding for eGov from the requested $45 million to $5 million, have those initiatives lost any traction and do you see any initiatives planned for this year possibly being delayed until the next fiscal year?
Mark Forman: Let me assure that we did not lower any funding. Congress did cut the E-gov Fund request for FY2003, and made clear that we should fund the e-gov initiatives through consolidating redundancies rather than asking for more redundant funding. As a contingency in the FY2004 budget process, we made those spending allocation decisions for 2003 and 2004, and are now in the process of executing that contingency plan.
Washington, D.C.: How does cyber-terrorism factor into your position and your dealings with homeland security?
Mark Forman: Under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), a component of the E-Gov Act, there are clear roles and responsibilities for OMB, Dept of Homeland Security, NIST/Commerce Dept. and agencies.
Laurel, Md.: How are you measuring those productivity gains that you're seeking, and what will you judge as a success for this effort?
Mark Forman: In general, the most common metrics relate to cycle time, cost and quality of government decisions (errors, etc).
Cynthia L. Webb: For more information on the E-Government Act, signed by President Bush in December, the White House Web site provides details: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/12/20021217-5.html
Bradenton, Fla.: How much taxpayers' money do you expect to save in the next five years by moving from proprietary software to Linux and other open-source software? Have you started to install Linux desktops or are you waiting until you convert most federal servers to Linux before tackling a government-wide desktop operating system change?
Mark Forman: We don't have a specific 5 year target for moving to any one platform, but we have incorporated about a billion dollars of savings from decisions around smart buying of office automation and infrastructure. We have not yet focused on a government-wide desktop approach.
Washington, D.C.: Does Congress' cutting the 2003 budget for the Quicksilver e-government projects from $45 million to $5 million indicate a lack of support for such efforts? As Congress considered the funds, did the administration make any push to have the full request included? Can you estimate the likelihood that the full 2004 e-government request will be fulfilled?
Cynthia L. Webb: Mark, we have a number of questions on this topic. Could you explain how the cuts in this area have impacted your e-government initiatives?
Mark Forman: Look, the E-Gov initiatives that came out of the Quicksilver study were really one initiative -- consolidation around the citizen, simplifying and unifying on average more than 17 siloed and overlapping agency projects. We asked for $45M in FY03 to fund innovative cross agency solutions and accelerate the consolidations. My read of what Congress said is that they did not want to add yet again more redundant funding.
We the leadership roles that some key members now have, and our ability to provide better data to Congress, I do think we'll have a better chance of getting funding in FY04. But, I am going to take Congress' advice and we will move forward using the funding allocation decisions made during the FY2004 budget preparations.
Minneapolis, Minn.: It was great to see the launch of Regulations.gov. When will the system allow people to see the public submissions online, particularly those from interest groups? Do you see other e-democracy applications in e-government that will promote more government accountability?
Mark Forman: This is an excellent question, and for some regulations, you are able to see the full docket today. By the end of September, you should be able to see it for the vast majority of rules.
On your second question, we have been working to put more information about federal contracts on line.
Rockville, Md.: Given the enormous complexities involved with integrating government systems and resources, what would you like to see in your "ideal" government IT provider?
Mark Forman: Proven frameworks, and a focus on solutions that give us better results, faster, and at lower cost than business as usual.
Cynthia L. Webb: Here is a link to the Regulations.gov Web site: http://www.regulations.gov/
New York: Does the federal government put all its major Web sites through usability testing? Have redesigned government sites found increased use?
Cynthia L. Webb: Mark, any examples of redesigned sites that come to mind?
Mark Forman: We have over 22,000 websites, and there is no requirement yet. This is one of the issues we are addressing in the E-Gov Act implementation. For the major portals and E-Gov initiatives, I do require usability testing.
Burke, Va.: What initiatives are under way to ensure that IT workers understand what competencies are needed to perform well in government IT jobs, and then effectively identify professional development to help them attain those competencies?
Cynthia L. Webb: Mark, this is a good question, particularly since a lot of senior-level IT workers in the government are nearing retirement age, making the training of newer IT workers more imperative.
Mark Forman: There is a significant effort underway with CIO Council Workforce Committee and the Office of Personnel Management. They are addressing comprehensive reforms, ranging from competencies to pay. Meanwhile, there are several training programs, including: the CIO University, OPM's Management of Information Technology, National Defense University, and GSA STAR programs.
Washington, D.C.: Could you please explain the rationale for investing millions of dollars in the disasterhelp.gov portal when it's highly unlikely that disaster victims will have access to a computer with Internet access during/right after a disaster? What exactly is the value of this to the taxpayer?
Mark Forman: The portal has public information, but most of the investment and results come from the on-line secure and simplified business processes that are being deployed for federal, state, and local government officials involved in disaster response. While we'll talk about the capabilities, the actual tools are addressing a chronic problem raised by State Emergency Management directors -- that the federal government was too complicated and convoluted with dozens of siloed disaster programs. The secure portal has tools that uncomplicate and allow for planning before the disaster occurs, during a crisis and afterwards.
Cynthia L. Webb: Here is one link to information on education and training programs for CIOS: http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/content/offerings_content.jsp?contentOID=113942&contentType=1004
Pittsburgh, Pa.: It seems as though the last year or so has been a real dead period for e-government advances. All the really useful applications (including the IRS's uncharacteristically useful e-file component) came out years ago. What's worse, some Web sites (the Senate.gov site is a good example) actually seem to be taking steps backward in terms of design and usability. What gives?
Mark Forman: I'd argue that last year has been one of the most productive periods. Government finally understood that citizens want service, as well as information. Government finally understood that technology is part of modern management, and e-government needs to be about e-business as well as publishing information to the Internet. We see millions of people engaged and significant improvements in government effectiveness and efficiency. But, there is soooo much more work that's needed here!
Cynthia L. Webb: Thanks everyone for joining us today. That is all the time we have for questions today. Hopefully, we will be able to host Mark Forman in the near future for another chat. Mark, thanks for joining us today and for providing us with a wealth of information.
Automatically Update Page | Get New Responses | Submit Question
© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company