The Promise and Potential of E-Government: Silos of Expertise Needed in the Past Must Segue to a More Agile, Responsive, and Horizontal Form of Government

By Sindelar, John | The Public Manager, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Promise and Potential of E-Government: Silos of Expertise Needed in the Past Must Segue to a More Agile, Responsive, and Horizontal Form of Government


Sindelar, John, The Public Manager


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. --Lao Tzu

This perhaps over-used quotation describes the current transformation of government. This is not to understate the progress that government has made to implement e-government over the last six years, but to measure how far we have to go to overcome the many challenges and realize its full promise. At the federal level, the realization of that promise is no longer simply a political goal as part of President Bush's management reform agenda. It is an imperative that the nation has a vital stake in accomplishing. Whether that accomplishment happens sooner or later is really the question. Put another way, it is not a question of "if," but "when."

E-Government Trends

A number of trends--some global and others particular to the United States--are driving the implementation of e-government in general, and more specifically, creating the demand for a shared-services environment with information technology (IT) as the enabler:

* Funding pressures are tremendous. Constrained budget resources and higher mission-critical priorities are driving a demand for greater returns on IT investments. Upon taking office in 2009, the new president will have less flexibility in the use of budgetary resources than most previous presidents, so the pressure on IT will only increase.

* Global challenges--the war on terrorism, competition of a world market, and ascendancy of new economic powers that threaten U.S. interests--demand leveraging of IT investments, information sharing, and collaborating in development of emerging technology.

* Constituent demands for transparent, secure online services that ensure privacy continue to grow. The "gray tsunami"--the tidal wave of retirements in government--is now a reality. Will government be part of Web 2.0 and attract the next generation of leaders if it continues to use legacy systems and out-of-date electronic tools? As inexperience and shortages in skilled positions increase, will government take the opportunity to mitigate the risk through shared services?

The next administration may repackage the e-government effort and alter the strategy for implementation, but it cannot deny that the effort is necessary and strategic for the efficiency, effectiveness, and security of the United States. Although the pace of change seems slow and incremental, we are in an era of government transformation.

Progress Since 2001

Seeing where we've been is instructive in judging where we are going. In August 2001,Mark Forman, in his newly established position as the Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, kicked o. the interagency effort to implement e-government with the following message:

"E-government represents a new role for IT in the federal government. The vision is an order of magnitude improvement in the federal government's value to the citizen. It is based on principles as an integral component of the President's Management Agenda. It is market-based, results-oriented, and citizen-centered. IT must simplify access by its citizens to government and unify redundant systems."

The ramifications of these words--twenty-four e-government projects, the lines-of-business initiative driven by Forman's successor, Karen Evans, and related accomplishments--constitute a legacy as well as a challenge for the next administration to take the effort to a new level. The legacy includes numerous examples of progress toward the vision of e-government that is an "order of magnitude of improvement" since 2001.A few examples from the Report to Congress on the Benefits of the President's E-Government Initiatives: Fiscal Year 2007 follow:

* GovBenefits.gov served more than twenty-two million visitors and provided nearly one million citizen referrals to benefit programs, averaging over three hundred thousand visitors per month in 2006.

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