Doing E-Gov Homework

WASHINGTON (04/03/2000) - You've slaved for months mapping out an ambitious e-commerce project that will both save the department money and deliver programs faster. Now comes the hard part: finding the money.

Help may be on the way. The U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Electronic Commerce has asked students at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business to recommend a set of strategies to fund governmentwide electronic initiatives.

The partnership with UMD is part of a program launched in 1998 by GSA's e-commerce office to promote the development and training of e-commerce professionals in cooperation with several universities.

This year, GSA tasked a team of graduate students at the Center for Knowledge and Information Management with researching the federal budget process and interviewing federal, state and local officials and private-sector firms on how they finance start-up projects and new business lines. The team will also look at what infrastructure agencies have in place and what best practices they can share with other agencies. The group will release its findings in May.

GSA hopes to learn what innovative approaches agencies are using to fund interagency initiatives, including pilot programs and business process re-engineering efforts, said John Hart, program analyst at GSA's Office of Electronic Commerce. "[We] can pass the hat around, but in the long term, that doesn't satisfy the requirements," he said.

The report will help GSA develop a model business plan for use in business case analysis that it can apply to future interagency or governmentwide e-commerce projects, Hart said.

"We will use it as a tool when we work with other governmentwide projects," he said. "Whatever they research will be applicable to virtually any kind of activity."

The graduate students will look at how agencies are using working capital funds, innovation funds, direct appropriations and rebate models, said Jonathan Palmer, a business school faculty member at UMD. They will also look at coordination strategies among multiple agencies, including assigning a virtual agency with responsibility for a project.

The students have already found that "top-level advocacy and user buy-in are really important" to the success of e-government initiatives, Palmer said.

But funding may be the tip of the iceberg. There are larger issues that affect agencies' ability to roll out e-government projects, said Roger Baker, chief information officer at the Commerce Department. "The first one is changing the culture of the government," he said. Agencies tend to take an agency-specific "stovepiped" view rather than an enterprisewide view of delivering services, he said.

Also, the motivations that drive industry -- profit and competition -- don't drive government, Baker said. "You don't yet see the motivators that will cause government to transform itself the way the private sector has."

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