Karen Evans is the Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget in the White House. In this role, she oversees implementation of IT throughout the U.S. federal government. She was a keynote speaker in May at the Lac Carling Congress, where she also spoke with Alex Binkley of CIO Government Review. Excerpts from their conversation follow:
Q: Does the United States have the same level of federal-state-local co-operation in e-government ventures as Canada?
A: We have what we call state, local and tribal governance. We work closely together, but we don’t have a forum like Lac Carling where we come together on an annual basis. We do have forums, for example on the federal CIO council, where we have participation from the counties as well as the state governments. They have representatives who come and sit in on our meetings.
Q: Has the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the war on terrorism made your job harder, trying to balance security and individual privacy?
A: The passage of the e-Government Act includes a piece on privacy, and each agency is required to do a privacy impact assessment. They are really supposed to do it for all new projects going forward, so that citizens can see how we are going to manage information as they submit it to the federal government. So I don’t know that I would say that formation of the Department of Homeland Security has made my job difficult. I would say that the Department has a very strong focus on securing the homeland, and we work very closely with them to ensure that everything that they are doing has that balance of privacy and security.
Q: Has the move to e-government in the United States been driven at the bureaucratic level or has it come from the top, such as with President Bush’s management agenda?
A: The president holds each agency and cabinet secretary accountable to his scorecard for implementing e-government. You can look at it on results.gov. We publish this scorecard on a quarterly basis so the agencies can see their progress on five elements. There’s a progress score and an overall status score. And he does use the scorecard in talking to the cabinet officials about their progress.
Q: It must be a big help to have the political blessing for e-government that the President has provided?
A: The President’s management agenda makes a lot of sense to me. It includes everything we should have been doing all along. What it does is clearly hold people accountable for results. And the scorecard really holds the agencies accountable for their results and their achievements and it is being measured on a quarterly basis. That, to me, is what is really driving down within the agencies. When you start looking into each of the elements — for example, under the management of human capital, it includes the performance and the over all goals that cascade down to each individual person’s performance appraisal. So you have a clear line of sight that you as an individual can see how you are contributing to the over all big picture of results.
Q: Has it been a big job to break down the silos within government?
A: It has been a challenge because people are focused on achieving the mission of their agency. So we are asking them to think beyond the regular boundaries of their agency and to look across and see who else is doing the same thing they are. It’s a challenge to get people to look at that, but I think that in the last three years we have come a long way. People are starting to reach across and say I don’t need to do this because somebody else has already done this. I can take what they have done and I can get my piece done sooner and add more value and service.
Q:How well are U.S. federal agencies and departments able to share information electronically?
A: Our Federal Enterprise Architecture Effort has really given the agencies the ability to share information. One of the items that we have is a service component piece for when they may not necessarily be able to share all the way down in the data. That will be a piece that they have to work out with a bunch of other rules and policies and legislation that they have in place. They can see how someone else has already collaborated and developed a service component dealing with that and they can share these factors as well.
Q: The U.S. Agriculture Department has a very user-friendly Web site. Is this common across the government?
A: The USDA has worked very hard at reaching out and providing usability with their groups and working with their customer base. They have a very good e-government program….We are working with all the departments on that (user friendly Web sites). When you look at the scorecard, you will see all departments aren’t equal. They all have different scores on that. We have a CIO council and a best practices committee and he (the USDA CIO) shares information so the other departments can learn the way he did it and use some of the same services or move in that direction. So we try to really share best practices with each other as well.