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What’s needed for more effective IT, transparency

Nov. 26, 2012 - 01:24PM   |  
By ALAN P. BALUTIS   |   Comments

There now is a unique convergence between current challenges, the need for government leaders to act in a fundamentally different way, a generational shift in executive ranks, a changing workforce and workplace, and powerful new collaborative technologies. Any one of these would be a major driver for changes in our government, but their convergence creates a perfect management storm and an opportunity for the next president, partnering with the new Congress, to dramatically reshape the bureaucracy to forge a 21st-century government.

To do so, the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration have made the following recommendations to the recently re-elected president and the 113th Congress:

An enhanced digital government agenda: We need a statement of principles and an action plan for implementing digital government that go beyond the Digital Strategy, released this year. Such a plan should state that the primary manner in which client services could be improved is through single points of access to multiple sources of service — a coherent enterprise vision of client services, electronic delivery of services, one-stop shops and agency-to-agency cooperation. It should outline a coherent whole-of-enterprise vision of client services, call for electronic delivery of services and public kiosks, and emphasize one-stop shops and agency-to-agency cooperation.

It should state that all services that can be provided digitally should be. And it should focus on intergovernmental (as opposed to federal-only) solutions.

A digital strategy and agenda is about more than IT and electronic transactions; it is also a plan to rethink and reform the way the government does business. Once agencies have implemented these recommendations, they should move on to the next step: seriously rethinking and reorganizing their field offices and delivery systems.

Citizen engagement: The president and Congress should continue to build upon previous efforts in creating new and innovative ways to use technology to further citizen engagement efforts. While transparency may be a tool to help citizen engagement, it alone does not create the multidimensional communications channels needed for engagement. Similarly e-government — using the Internet to improve management and service delivery — does not amount to citizen engagement. Given the explosive growth of mobile devices, as well as Internet penetration, there is enormous potential to transform the relationship of governments to the public.

Reorganizing the office of the federal CIO: The issue here is not really or solely the role of the CIO, but more the lack of continuous management improvement across government — that management gap generally involves IT because our government is information intensive. We recommend the creation of a chief management officer within all major departments and agencies, to serve a fixed-year term akin to that of the Controller-General, the head of the Government Accountability Office. All management and administrative positions should report to the CMO, and all these positions should be filled from career SES ranks.

Improving IT project management: Major business transformations in the federal government are often treated merely as an IT initiative, as opposed to the complex organizational change management challenge they actually are.

There are a number of steps that would help integrate the whole organization into each project.

One is to enhance the governance of large projects. Namely, the President’s Management Council, composed of deputy secretaries across government, should determine the government’s capacity for large IT-driven business transformations and govern the number and size of concurrent projects both within an agency and across government accordingly. Further, the PMC and the CIO should ensure project post-mortems are a regular part of project oversight.

Also, procurements should incentivize the achievement of strategic goals as the first selection and review criterion, rather than focusing on procedural goals or accomplishments.

Contracts should contain “off-ramps” that give the government the option of terminating the relationship with an underperforming or unsuitable vendor and replacing the vendor with a new one, or stopping the project.

In a period when trust in government is at an all-time low, transparency may be a tool to rebuild that trust. Government transparency may be defined as the public’s right to know about actions of its government and power elites, as well as access to tools that foster greater participation in democratic actions. Transparency is one element — albeit an essential one — of an open government.

Finally, privacy and security must be enhanced. The introduction of information and communications technologies has raised challenges as to how we can protect privacy and security while exploiting the benefits that innovation offers. While some of the reforms in existing policy may require legislation, much can be done with existing legal authorities to mitigate the risk we assume in using information technology while also reducing the potential unwarranted intrusions upon personal privacy.

Alan P. Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group. He participated in the “Memos to National Leaders” project by the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration and co-wrote the project’s policy papers concerning information technology and transparency.

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