Nov 04 2008

Motherhood, Apple Pie ... and Information Technology?

My days in government are numbered. No, the stress of serving as deputy administrator of e-government and IT in the Office of Management and Budget hasn’t triggered some life-threatening condition. But soon I will rejoin the private sector after five years as a member of the executive branch. Increasingly, I am asked what I think my successors will be able to accomplish — what will stay and what will go. And as a political appointee, I am often asked if a new administration will bring about a wholesale change in the direction of federal IT.

Although, sadly, many issues these days seem to be viewed through a partisan lens, I have to believe IT and e-government speak to all Americans, regardless of political philosophy. We always ask a few key questions before embarking on any initiative: Will it provide results to the intended constituents? What does it make better? And how do we measure results? I can’t imagine any new administration not wanting to ask similar questions. That said, some things I expect as a member of the public come January:

• Collaboration, or “horizontal government” — Technology increasingly enables groups to collaborate across traditional boundaries. With 1.8 million civilian employees around the globe, few organizations can benefit more from improved access to information and the sharing of resources than the federal government. And we have begun to achieve just that: Through our Lines of Business approach, we have established shared services for common, governmentwide functions. Rather than develop independent legacy systems — at additional and unnecessary cost to the taxpayer — agencies are migrating to shared-services centers for various functions, including human resources management, financial management and payroll. We have launched the MAX Federal Community, a governmentwide wiki allowing agencies to share ideas and best practices on topics of common interest within and across domains.


• Security — Sharing services and information online leads to opportunities, but it also opens the door to threats. Initiatives such as the Information Systems Security Line of Business, Trusted Internet Connections and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 improve the government’s security posture. But we will never be too secure. As former FBI Director and Director of Central
Intelligence William Webster said: “Security is always seen as too much until the day it is not enough.” If we don’t get security correct from the outset, nothing else in IT matters.

• Transparency — The government is awash in data. Who among us doesn’t have an overflowing mailbox and stuffed file cabinet? But using search and database technology, we can meaningfully aggregate and disseminate data, providing transparency to the public. Websites such as are just the beginning; greater transparency will lead to improved clarity and accountability. And as stewards of $3.2 trillion in taxpayer dollars, federal employees — be they newly minted political appointees or veteran careerists — should expect to be held accountable for their actions and delivering results.

Much of what we in IT have done has been a big departure from the status quo, especially from an organizational perspective. We are building a culture of collaboration and trust — focused on viewing citizens and other federal employees as customers — in which we work together as one enterprise. We’ve made tremendous progress; even so, more can and should be accomplished. The current e-gov initiatives provide future administrations with a foundation upon which to build.

One such opportunity lies in the Disaster Assistance Improvement Plan, established under Executive Order 13411, “Improving Assistance for Disaster Victims.” DAIP will provide a clearinghouse from which disaster victims can obtain information regarding federal assistance, state and local government programs, and private-sector help. This program leverages the capabilities of through use of an existing prescreening questionnaire, a single application, and access to all basic federal and state disaster information. 

To be certain, the next administration will undoubtedly uncover new tools and opportunities for transformation not yet available. But I have to believe the incoming administration — whether Republican or Democratic — will continue building a horizontal government that furthers transparency and accountability while protecting our digital assets and citizens’ privacy.

Photo: James Kegley