Feds Seek IT for Business Management Solutions
By Robert Deller
Almost everywhere the government turns these days to ensure improved management practices, it embraces increased use of information technology products and services.
The current impetus for improved performance comes from legislation, specifically the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act and the 1996 Information Technology Management Reform Act, but the White House is firmly behind the agenda.
With increasing costs of information technology to support performance improvements, the government is turning more to improved collection of fees from beneficiaries of government services. This makes sense. Increased user fees would decrease the tax burden on the general taxpayer. Grazing fees, mineral rights, licensing of products for interstate commerce, air traffic control and food inspection top the administration's targets for increased fee collection.
The government also expects to reduce spending on its internal operations that do not lead directly to support citizens or other nongovernment beneficiaries such as international interests. At least 30 percent of the more than $7 billion spent annually by the federal government for travel is tied up in overhead. The administration is calling for a complete re-engineering of travel management systems to reduce this overhead.
Another internal process that will see re-engineering is in purchasing and financial systems. The backbone of these initiatives is electronic commerce. Security and integrity of data are crucial to any application that would improve electronic handling of funds and other financial transactions. Electronic signatures are already testing favorably in agency programs.
Processes that are designed to improve program performance require oversight. GPRA in particular sets out requirements for agencies to identify performance improvement goals and schedules by which these goals are to be met. These plans are expected to be submitted by the agencies to Congress by Sept. 30.
These plans will be made available to the public, probably through agency Internet Web sites. Actual performance plans will identify activities for fiscal 1999.
In President Clinton's budget for fiscal 1998, each of the departments and leading independent agencies has line items that focus IT on attaining program performance benefits. Each of these programs will be targets of congressional scrutiny over the next several years.
Of particular significance is the decline in spending authority for Justice Department and Social Security programs, and the less than dramatic increases in spending for Treasury and Transportation programs. The overall budget increase of 8 percent between fiscal 1997 and fiscal 1998 for these target programs is higher than the increase in overall IT spending. The IT spending increase projected for fiscal 1998 is less than 3 percent.
This is bad news for many programs not listed among the president's priorities. The programs in this list alone account for almost 20 percent of the total IT budget for fiscal 1998.
The question is, how will the agencies define the performance metrics that will be used to gauge business management improvement? Both legislative and executive coaches are gearing up for the assessment, but federal IT contracts will be the proving grounds.
Robert Deller is an industry analyst with Global Systems & Strategies Inc., Vienna, Va. Send e-mail to email@example.com
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