Reengineering Through Information Technology

Executive Summary When it comes to information technology, horror stories abound in both the public and private sectors. In some cases, the federal government is woefully behind the times, unable to use even the most basic technology to conduct its business. At one point, for instance, three Agriculture Department bureaus were supposed to share a computer system toimprove the management of food and subsidy programs. Five years later, they still could not resolve differences over testing, installation, and maintenance.

In society at large, the widespread use of new technology has caused problems that include threats to personal privacy and safety. In Brooklyn not long ago, crooks used a hidden video camera to watch people withdrawing money at ATM machines. By recording personal identification numbers, the cameras helped the crooks later make unauthorized withdrawals.

Nevertheless, information technology has brought the convenience of revolutionary change to everyday life, from ATM machines at banks to global transfers of funds, from 800 telephone services to personal home computers, "e-mail", and the worldwide Internet computer telecommunications system. Whatever its problems, the information technology revolution is upon us. One author calls such technology the most powerful tool for change in the modern era.[1]

American businesses, particularly the smarter ones, are taking notice. As the cover text of a recent book proclaims, "Computers and telecommunications are reshaping the basic structure of American enterprise, and any competitive business must realize the new technology either to improve its products and services or to create entirely new ones.[2] The private sector is employing information technology to reengineer the way it does business, using human and material resources more efficiently and competing more effectively.

-Lagging Behind- For various reasons--some regulatory, some legislative, some cultural--the federal government lacks appropriate access to the most efficient, costeffective information technology products and services. The government has lacked not only strong leadership in this area, but also a coherent plan on how to most effectively tap information technology 's potential. This report provides Washington with a road map to the future.

The government must not apply information technology haphazardly or sporadically. It also should not simply automate existing practices. Instead, public officials should view information technology as the essential infrastructure for government of the 21st Century, a modernized "electronic government" to give citizens broader, more timely access to information and services through efficient, customer- responsive processes.

For practically everyone, dealing with the government is complicated. Americans complain that government is too slow or confusing in delivering its services or that they have too many places to call or go. Government employees complain even more about trying to deal with other parts of government. A big reason is the incredible volume of information that government processes and files.

Information technology, with its ability to electronically store and rapidly sort, transmit, and access information, is the key to solving this problem. If MasterCard can resolve a credit card issue at 1 a.m. and Federal Express can find the location of a package anywhere in the world, then, theoretically at least, government can do as well. But while technology solutions exist, government is falling dangerously behind the private sector in using technology to deliver services.

-Catching Up- President Clinton and Vice President Gore want to use information technology to improve Americans' quality of life and reinvigorate the economy. The administration has identified technology as the "engine of economic growth." [3] Among its top priorities is accelerating the development of a National Information Infrastructure of high-speed telecommunications networks, advanced computer systems, and software.

Today, information technology can create the government of the future, the electronic government. Electronic government overcomes the barriers of time and distance to perform the business of government and give people public information and services when and where they want them. It can swiftly transfer funds, answer questions, collect and validate data, and keep information flowing smoothly within and outside government. But making electronic government a reality requires two things: (1) leadership to place information technology at the center of the business of governing, and (2) commitment to the necessary support mechanisms.

This report outlines a three-part agenda for spreading information technology's benefits to the federal government: (1) Strengthen Leadership in Information Technology, (2) Implement Electronic Government, and (3) Establish Support Mechanisms for Electronic Government.

-Strengthen Leadership in Information Technology-. The recently created Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) can provide leadership in integrating information technology into systems that support government's operation.[4] Chaired by the Secretary of Commerce, this task force is responsible for articulating and implementing the President's vision for advanced telecommunications and computing technology. It is uniquely positioned to help develop the governmental aspects of America's information infrastructure. The President should expand the task force's work to include a Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Working Group which, in turn, would collaborate with state and local governments as well as the private sector.

The GITS Working Group should work with the IITF to develop a strategic vision and an implementation plan for using government information resources across and within agencies, and develop steps to improve how government provides information and services to the public. The working group should also develop strategies to empower information technology management in federal agencies and set priorities for sharing information among agencies. In addition, GITS should be the focal point for implementing the actions of this report.

-Implement Electronic Government- Electronic government extends the idea first seen in electronic banking. Just as ATMs, plastic access cards, and nationwide networks have made banking more convenient, electronic government will make communicating with government easier and faster. Obviously, as in electronic banking, privacy and security issues must be addressed here as well.

We propose seven initiatives to inaugurate the electronic government. They provide dynamic opportunities to improve the efficiency and easy use of government services. Their implementation will provide substantial return on investment through increases in productivity.

-Integrated Electronic Benefit Transfer- Electronic benefit transfer will use information technology present in the financial industry to deliver, nationwide, fast and efficient government assistance--including Food Stamps, Social Security benefits, and veterans' benefits.

-Integrated Electronic Access to Government Information and Services- Access to government is a right of Americans. Existing technology makes possible the integrated electronic access to government information and services. The use of a single nationwide 800 telephone number would simplify access to government agencies. Electronic government kiosks that use technology similar to that in ATMs can provide "one-stop shopping" for both government information and services. Personal computers may also be used to access electronic bulletin board systems, databases, and agency directory services.

-National Law Enforcement/Public Safety Network- A National Law Enforcement/Public Safety Wireless Network will improve coordination and communication among federal, state, and local law enforcement and public safety agencies, and will save money. It must first focus on establishing standards for sharing information and implementing appropriate privacy and security measures.

-Intergovernmental Tax Filing, Reporting, and Payments Processing- The IRS already has on file all the tax information needed to calculate the taxes due for about 60 million taxpayers because financial institutions and employers are required to report this information. Yet IRS and state tax agencies still require taxpayers to compute what IRS already knows. If IRS computed taxes and sent a statement, and if electronic filing were used for all others, IRS and state agencies could forgo the mailing of 75 boxcars of forms to taxpayers--and certain classes of taxpayers could ultimately not need to file. For others, they will need to file only once. Enormous administrative savings would accrue to government and the burden on taxpayers would be reduced.

-International Trade Data System- To help ensure the nation's competitiveness inglobal markets, the Treasury Department should create an all-inclusive database for disseminating international trade data, for use by the government and the trade community.

-National Environmental Data Index- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should create a National Environmental Data Index to coordinate the development and use of environmental data gathered by various government agencies. Its goal- -to give government, the private sector, academia, and citizens easy access to environmental information.

-Governmentwide Electronic Mail- In the private sector, e-mail and messaging systems are becoming as common as the desktop computer. Governmentwide electronic mail is a natural progression from paper-based government to an electronic govern- ment. E-mail allows rapid communication among employees across agency boundaries. The administration should work with Congress to resolve issues regarding what constitutes a government record created by e-mail, and how to ensure appropriate security in using e-mail.

-Establish Support Mechanisms for Electronic Government- The administration isworking with the private sector to more quickly develop a broad, privately operated national information infrastructure (NII). The NII "will revolutionize the way we work, learn, shop, and live, and will provide Americans the information they need, when they need it, and where they need it--whether in the form of text, images, sound, or video."[5] This capability will "enhance the productivity of work and lead to dramatic improvements in social services, education, and entertainment."[6] Nevertheless, this bright future can only become a reality if we adopt "forward-looking policies that promote the development of new technologies and if we invest in the information infrastructure for the 21st Century."

The public and private sectors both must help improve the nation's information infrastructure. Federal officials have a special responsibility since the government produces information resources, uses them and makes policy for their use, acts as a catalyst for their development, and delivers services through them.[7] The government should extensively use the emerging national information infrastructure that American industry is creating and refining. In a recent report, the President of the National Academy of Public Administration writes,

Information is pivotal to the vitality and productivity of government services and the nation's economic competitiveness. At issue is whether we can use information technology effectively to empower government, the private sector, and citizens alike. The complexity of today's world demands that the public and private sectors not only learn to master this tool, but also work cooperatively to maximize the national benefits.[8]

The infrastructure will allow the government to consolidate and modernize its data processing centers and standardize some of government's basic administrative functions, such as payroll, personnel record-keeping, management information systems, and financial and general ledger accounting. The GITS Working Group should develop an implementation plan for consolidating data processing installations and reengineering common application systems.

The administration recognizes that initiatives to bring electronic government to the public require strategic relationships between government and the private sector. These relationships must include necessary incentives for innovation. Agencies should be able to retain a portion of savings produced through information technology for reinvestment, and use multi-year funding for information technology projects. The government should promote performance-based contracting for information technology products, allowing the private sector to increase its profits if it can find ways to make government run more efficiently and cost-effectively. It should create a governmentwide venture capital fund to finance innovative information technology projects within agencies.

Success in implementing electronic government also depends on public confidence. Electronic government must protect the information it processes and ensure individual privacy. It also must protect national security interests, permit legitimate law enforcement activities, enhance global competitiveness and productivity for American business and industry, and ensure civil liberties. The government must define uniform privacy protection practices and generally accepted principles for information security. It also must adopt a digital signature standard, and it must promulgate encryption standards for sensitive information.

The government also must expedite and simplify how it acquires information technology.The market for computer hardware and software involves products for which the shelf life can be as short as a few months. In this environment, the government needs aggressive, innovative purchasing methods. The General Services Administration's (GSA's) current schedules should be replaced with a real-time, on-line electronic marketplace. Dollar limits on agency delegations of procurement authority and on credit card purchases for commercial information technology items should be raised significantly.

Federal employees must get training and technical assistance in information technology. The government should create a program to train nontechnical senior executives and political appointees. Moreover, the Office of Personnel Management and GSA should establish information resources management (IRM) competencies for federal employees pursuing appointments to IRM management positions.

Finally, because the new technology allows a physical restructuring of the organization, making it less hierarchical, employees at all levels should be able to interact electronically, sharing ideas and helping one another with on-line resolution of information technology problems.[9]

The quicker the federal workforce embraces the possibilities of information technology, the sooner the initiatives of electronic government can become a reality benefiting the public. By reengineering through information technology, the Clinton administration will provide the leadership, vision, and commitment to bring government into the Information Age.

Endnotes 1. Davenport, Thomas H., Process Innovation: Re-engineering Work through Information Technology (Boston: Ernst & Young, 1993), p. 1.

2. Davis, Stan, and Bill Davidson, 2020 Vision (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), front cover.

3. President William J. Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., Technology for America's Growth, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), 1993), p. 7.

4. The Information Infrastructure Task Force was formed by the National EconomicCouncil and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in May 1993. It is a federal government interagency task force consisting of representatives from federal agencies involved in telecommunications and information policy. The task force addresses issues that promote the application of the National Information Infrastructure.

5. See Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, High Performance Computing and Communications: Toward a National Information Structure (Washington, D.C.: Office of Science and Technology Policy, 1993).

6. Council for Competitiveness, "Vision for a 21st Century Information Infrastructure," Washington, D.C., May 1993.

7. U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Information Resources Management Plan of the Federal Government (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1992), p. III-8.

8. National Academy of Public Administration, The Information Government: National Agenda for Improving Government through Information Technology (Washington, D.C., 1993), p. iii.

9. Morgan, Gareth, Riding the Waves of Change (San Francisco: Jossey- Bass, 1990), p. 102.

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