Online Extra: New team stays the course

There's a new team of leaders taking control of federal IT and e-government for the administration, but they promise to stay the course set by Mark Forman.

With Forman's departure last week for industry, the senior staff within the Office of Management and Budget that oversees systems has changed nearly across the board.

Despite the personnel shifts, few observers said they expect major obstacles to maintaining the momentum Forman helped build for e-government.

"Mark is a great leader and we will miss him, but we know the work we are doing is the right thing to do, and it will continue no matter who is in that role," said Karen Evans, CIO at the Energy Department and the vice-chairwoman of the CIO Council. "I've spoken with several CIOs about Mark's impact, and each time the conversation goes back to how we will accomplish the goals Mark laid out."

Forman's exit to a small software start-up in California marks a complete turnover among OMB's top tier. Since June, President Bush has replaced OMB's director, deputy director and deputy director for management?all of whom play a significant role in setting e-government policies and promoting the President's Management Agenda.

Additionally, OMB has lost three of the five original Quicksilver portfolio managers. Tony Frater, manager for government-to-government Quicksilver projects, recently accepted an industry job, and Jonathan Womer, manager for government-to-citizen projects, will move to a post in OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the end of this month.

Frater's and Womer's exits follow that of Stephen Galvan, portfolio manager for the internal efficiency and effectiveness projects. He left in June to become the Small Business Administration's CIO.

While they try to settle on a Forman replacement, the Bush administration's management chiefs have tapped Norman Lorentz, OMB's chief technology officer, to lead the E-Government and IT Office?at least temporarily. Some observers suggest Lorentz, in fact, is on the short list of candidates?rumored to number four?for the job.

"Anytime somebody who has been as instrumental as Mark has in effecting as much change and getting as much launched as he has, there is a risk with his departure," said Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management. "We will make every effort to ensure we will not miss a beat."

Forman, who said last week that he would not offer more information about his new position until after he had left government, voiced confidence that the new team will continue the e-gov path upon which he started.

"Clay has really demonstrated acumen as an executive in government with the focus of getting agencies to take ownership of the management agenda," Forman said. "A lot of things are on a good path. Things will continue to move forward because of the leadership now and business processes we put in place."

But others said the management change could lead to delays. John Spotila, a former OIRA administrator and now president and chief operating officer for GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., said the high rate of turnover could be cause for alarm.

"There has to be some concern with the new team at OMB that the initiatives will lose momentum," Spotila said. "If the new OMB director is focused on other priorities, agencies will quickly notice."

Former director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. deserved a lot of credit for supporting Forman's initiatives through the budget process, federal observers said. And the new OMB team of director Joshua Bolten and Johnson must continue to back e-government for it to move forward, experts said.

"Mitch Daniels understood [the need to change] how the government leverages IT and provided strong support to Mark," said John Gilligan, the Air Force's CIO and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Federal Architecture and Infrastructure Committee. "The new leadership must establish the same level of support and understanding. I think Johnson already has shown he understands the focus, and I hope Josh understands it, too."

Others, however, said support for e-government will not waver because Bolten and Johnson already have shown that they grasp the goals of the management agenda, of which e-government is a component.
"Clay has shown continuous dedication to the 25 e-government initiatives," Evans said. "He clearly is aligned with what we want to accomplish."

Jim Kane, president and chief operating officer of Federal Sources Inc. of Chantilly, Va., said the leadership team matters less because Forman's requirements?that agencies submit business cases, update their enterprise architectures, and focus on IT security, project management and performance metrics?are now ingrained in agency processes.

Kane compared Forman's impact to that of Steve Kelman, a former Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator during the Clinton administration, who many credit for improving the way agencies buy goods and services.

"Even though Mark left, everything he has pushed for will continue," Kane said. "Agencies will miss Mark's energy, vision and commitment, but there is enough progress and it is broad enough that agencies realize the importance of it."

Gilligan added, Forman's credibility with agencies, Congress and industry will be hard to replace, but agency acceptance is strong enough to keep the initiatives going.

Spotila said as long as OMB does not face a large turnover in the number of career employees working on e-government, the efforts will remain a priority.

"Career people enable the government to maintain continuity when inevitable change occurs," Spotila said. "Mark did a great job, but often it is the people behind him that made the impact by working day-to-day with agencies to get them on the right path."
Kane and others also said the addition of Bolten and Johnson?both administration insiders?could help obtain e-government funding from Congress.

"Mitch supported e-government but did not get it funded," Kane said. "Bolten is the right person to develop a strong working relationship with Congress."

Gilligan said it will be important for Bolten and Johnson to concentrate on gaining continued buy-in from top agency managers.
"We need help to bring the executives on faster so we can continue to change the way we do business," he said.

As the new leadership team settles in, one of its top priorities will be replacing Forman.

"It is not the easiest thing in the world to find people to take that job and devote the same energy that Mark did," Spotila said. "It will be important for whoever replaces Mark to have the same type of relationship with Josh and Clay that Mark had with Mitch."

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News

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