U.S. official touts Internet

As it seeks a major increase in its IT budget to US$52 billion next year, the U.S. President George Bush’s administration is looking for ways to use the Internet to radically change how the federal government does business, rather than merely Web-enabling existing applications and processes.

Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, says the federal government must use market-based approaches to IT investments, measure these investments against results, and focus on its customer groups, including citizens, businesses and other government agencies.

“We have to look for transformational ways of using the Internet … not just buying new computers or new software,” Forman says.

Forman spoke at a luncheon in Framingham, Mass., Thursday sponsored by the Business Software Alliance, which includes network software vendors IBM Corp., Network Associates Inc. and Novell Inc.

Among the e-government initiatives Forman touted were the Department of Education’s plan to improve access to student loan information, the Interior Department’s efforts to create one-stop shopping for recreational information, and the Treasury Department’s attempt to simplify tax and wage reporting for businesses. Forman says these and 21 other e-government initiatives dubbed as high-priority are all based on strong business cases.

With its $52 billion IT budget request, the federal government is “by far the biggest spender on IT,” Forman says. “We should be the leader in business processes.”

However, Forman says that the government’s ROI on its IT investments is “nowhere near where it needs to be.”

One area that Forman says he’s most excited about is the potential for co-branded portals that the government could outsource to industry in markets where a functioning Internet business model exists. He cited three areas where co-branded portals might work: travel, training and recruitment.

However, the federal government still needs to shore up the security for its e-government initiatives, Forman admits. He says OMB is monitoring 400 IT projects across government – representing $10 billion in investments – with a special eye on improving information and network security.

“OMB gets it. They’re clearly putting the M back in OMB,” says Douglas Sabo, manager of government and community relations with Network Associates. “OMB is focused on using the Internet for real transformation … in customer service delivery and distributed computing.”

Altogether, the federal government operates more than 22,000 Web sites yielding more than 35 million Web pages, according to OMB’s E-Government Strategy, released in February.