The E-Team: Mark Forman & Co.

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Complete transcript

Mark Forman and Tad Anderson

(Washington Technology photo by Henrik G. de Gyor)

Tony Frater

(Washington Technology photo by Henrik G. de Gyor)

White House, industry face tough fight to overturn legislation

The Office of Management and Budget's e-government management team met July 16 met with the Washington Technology and Government Computer News editorial staffs to discuss the administration's e-gov progress and what the future holds.

Participating OMB staff members were Mark Forman, associate director of OMB for information technology and e-government; Tad Anderson, government to business portfolio manager; Jonathan Womer, government to citizen portfolio manager; Jeanette Thornton, e-authentication portfolio manager and Tony Frater, government to government portfolio manager.

An abridged transcript follows. The complete transcript, along with the list of OMB's 24 e-gov initiatives, is located in the box to the right of this article.

Gail Emery (WT): If the $45 million e-gov fund is approved in the 2003 budget, how will that money be used?

Forman: It's leveraging of the applications that cross agencies. Just like we used the $5 million this year to support integration tools, like the GovBenefits tool, it will go there, but next year we'll be able to look for the [return on investment] based on opportunities to do consolidated or integrated investments.

Emery: Will the money allow you to add more programs to these 24 initiatives or to add new initiatives?

Forman: The focus would not be to add new initiatives in 2003, because the 24 were in the budget. It's really a question of where the opportunity is to buy once, use many. And moreover, can we continue to leverage the technology to do that.

Tom Temin (GCN): So in 2003, there won't be any new initiatives under the portfolio system?

Forman: As we go through the 2004 budget process, we may find some new ones. We're doing some analysis with the CIO Council, some of the architecture group, to identify suggested areas for teaming. We have a handful [of projects] that we've identified and are putting the data together.

Temin: The IT budget is variously described as $50 billion to $60 billion a year for the federal government. This $45 million you're requesting for e-government, to the readers of Washington Technology, that's a rounding error.


Steve LeSueur (WT): Or an accounting error.


Temin: How do the 24 initiatives bridge over to some of the huge IT -- the Customs modernization, the Internal Revenue Service modernization, the Federal Aviation Administration modernization --even some of the big military modernizations. Does it affect any of that?

Forman: Yes. Absolutely. The heart of e-government is making the government citizen-centered and results-oriented. So we focused our portfolios on the major customer segments. We'll continue to look at those major investments from that standpoint.

The difference between "Does it fit in a portfolio or not" is the question, or "Is it multi-agency, or is it unique to the mission of that agency?" That's why we've been getting the agencies to lay out an enterprise architecture, and to have it tie back to the lines of business.

In the area of Customs modernization, as an example, I think that was one of the first areas where they had that architecture. [The General Accounting Office] gave them accolades for being at the forefront. But now, post-September 11th, things have changed.

So I think you'll see an awful lot of work along the lines you're talking about and the component agencies coming together in this Department of Homeland Security. It's just we now realize a lot of those business functions cut across agencies.

For example, the CIO Council started some working groups in the homeland security mission areas to accelerate that process. You could think of Customs modernization as being tied with the question of package entry-exit to the United States. And similarly, when you look at some of the border security areas, there's an entry-exit issue that hits [the Immigration and Naturalization Service] and hits the State Department, the FBI, et cetera.

The CIOs are already talking about how they can work together. It's a different environment than a year ago. It's a flat-out, 180-degree different environment, in terms of the ability to engage in teamwork and joint investments. They understand that they've taken it from having to defend themselves to looking at "Where is the value? Where are opportunities for working together?"

Temin: The Homeland Security Department combines a whole bunch of things. If you add up the current IT budgets, it's $2.2 billion. What are the chances of that figure surviving intact, should this agency really happen?

Forman: We expect to see considerable savings from IT infrastructure consolidation. That said, there's a question on the missions, where, essentially, they're new missions. And we know that this has to go through an enterprise architecture process. How that all gets reconciled and what the results are, it's too early to tell. What I would say is, when the department gets stood up, I would love to see it as starting with a green in status in e-gov [on the administration's stoplight report card]. That's Nirvana for a techie guy like me.


Temin: It all looks great on paper, but these agencies are vastly different in cultures and modus operandi. When two companies merge, sometimes five years later, they're still not really merged. What is the reality of this?

Forman: Some of the key elements, they're law enforcement agencies. Are the cultures of law enforcement agencies different? Well, yes and no. [The Transportation Security Administration] probably has pretty good representation from the other agencies. When you get the people who used to work together, the change management literature is pretty good, saying you focus them on the vision, and you focus them on the goals.

I haven't met anybody that says, "We're just not going to work together when we come together."

If I were to say some of our lessons learned from the e-government initiatives, where is there some push-back, it's probably going to be in the back-office systems, because somebody's going to say, "Does everybody need their own [human resources] directorate, in the same way? If we've got seven or eight different agencies coming over, and they have an HR directorate, and they're going to move into four or five directorates, will each directorate need the same HR directorate?"

I understand there's some angst there. That's a normal part of the process, but that's not a justification to keep silos separate, right?

Temin: Is there a kill list? A couple of people from OMB have said that not all of the projects in the portfolios are going to make it. Which are lagging?

Forman: The kill list is not associated with these 24 e-government initiatives. The kill list was associated with the projects that didn't make the business case. And as I've said, 900 business cases showed up. It shocked the heck out of us.

There were 400 projects that we put on a high-risk list. And the kill list was going to be, essentially, the ones that didn't make the business case. The vast majority of them are off that hit list. I don't anticipate a huge hit list for 2003.

Temin: But how do you verify that they just didn't do a great form, and they really deserve to be off the hit list?

Forman: We've got fairly sophisticated folks that know when they're getting snowed by the agencies. It's things like we require security to be put into the plan. So, they've thought through that they need an electronic signature and they need authentication. There's something about that in their work plan versus, you know, a milestone is "to address security."


Forman: There's some dramatic shifts in mind-sets. And that's why you're seeing agencies get to green. But I think we should be fair about this. This is not new. This goes back to the Clinger-Cohen Act. Agencies have been required to do this. We've taken a disciplined approach and said, "No major systems investments without a business case."

Temin: Isn't there a back door? The committees, too, sometimes they restore things that the administration may want to kill.

Forman: Sure. But in this IT arena, we're not killing things because we think it's a bad policy. We're killing things because they don't have a real program manager, the program management plan is not real, or they haven't worked security in.

If somebody were to go to the Hill and say, "OMB killed it because they didn't like it," the appropriators would do what they're prone to do, which is send GAO to see "Why did it get killed?" and GAO comes back and says, "No security here." Never are we going to see a situation where appropriators are going to say, "Let's move forward with this and not make it secure."

Jason Miller (GCN): In terms of how agencies are progressing, what's farthest along? What needs to be worked on within the portfolios?

Anderson: I would say that the areas that are furthest along are probably the capital planning and investment control and enterprise architecture. And the biggest challenges are probably change management issues and process integration. It's a common theme that keeps coming up as we go across portfolios and across projects.

Forman: It's important to keep in mind this three-pronged approach that we've taken with each initiative and have that low-hanging-fruit initial deployment. And so, we end up with about 20 deployments this summer. The second is defining that integrated process. And that's where you're starting to pick up push back, now, because that's hard. The third [prong] is deployment of the transformed approach the real transformation or deployment. And that's going to be the hardest, because that has to have a migration plan and so forth, and they cut over the training.

Temin: Now, do you all expect to still be working in the OMB by the time we get to the transformation stage?

Forman: The target on most of those, if you recall, from the strategy document, is most end up in December of next year. Yes. So we have another, what, six years left for the --


LeSueur: At Washington Technology we're trying to look beyond the 24 e-gov initiatives to see what else is going on that would be called e-government. What other projects would you look at and say, "That's a good e-government project to watch?"

Forman: I think you see it in projects and I think you see it in architecture, like the financial management architecture project at DOD. If that does not touch all the elements of their back-office operations -- human resources, acquisition, and the interfaces with financial management -- I don't believe that it will achieve its goal, because it's very clear that is their focus. These are the foundation type e-business or e-government initiatives that we find interesting.

Temin: What's the next big thing?

Forman: I think [the Customs Service's International Trade Data System] is certainly one of the ones that we're watching as an e-government initiative. There's the Customs modernization approach. There's another interesting proposal that's floating out there, and that says, essentially, you could outsource that. And so there's no doubt about it. We need the data. The question is: Do we need to own the data acquisition process, or is this another thing where, clearly, you could leverage XML to collect once, use many? Maybe we don't need to be the collectors, because somebody's already collected that data, but we just need to have secure access to it.

Frater: If I wanted to look at the next big thing, I would spend a lot of time looking at lines of business or processes that are really discombobulated for the citizen or customer groups. And then I would think about solutions. I'd think about migration strategy to eliminate the discombobulation in that process and float that up. I hear hundreds and thousands of technology pitches, which are kind of meaningless to me because I want to understand how the line of business is going to be impacted by it, not necessarily just fancy bells and whistles.

Forman: A lot of agencies are going through learning in that regard. When industry started to work on this back in the early '90s, they used to talk about things like the theory of constraints. In other words, the notion that you could optimize all the bit pieces and still not fix the problem. You had to find out "What's the binding constraint," and address that. I think some of the agencies are really learning how to do that. Those are the types of things we're looking for, to see: Is this a snow job business case, or is this a real high-payoff investment?

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