Reengineering Through Information Technology

Recommendations and Actions

IT08: Plan, Demonstrate, and Provide Governmentwide Electronic Mail

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet(in)

Imagine this: A citizen walks into a government office for job counseling and information on training programs. Unfortunately, the local counselor is not familiar with her particular job category. He sends an e-mail message to an expert at the regional office. A few minutes later, the counselor is sharing a detailed reply from this expert with the jobseeker. In fact, he gives her an e-mail address she can use to continue to communicate with the expert from her home computer.

In 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (Arpanet) was created so that researchers at universities and other facilities might share data and computational resources.[1] Soon these scientists developed ways to use the network to transmit messages, known today as electronic mail or "e-mail." Universities and regional networks then connected their own systems to Arpanet, creating Internet. Today, this cooperative network of networks links millions of computers throughout the world. Moreover, e-mail on Internet and other networks has become an important tool for industry and a growing market driver for commercial networks and software suppliers.

E-mail has many applications. It provides rapid communications among individuals or groups. Workers in an organization, within a building or throughout the world, can use e-mail over local area networks, telephone lines, or specialized data networks such as Internet for easy, rapid interaction. The delays and frustrations of "telephone tag" disappear, and many people can simultaneously interact. In effect, workers can assemble and interact as teams without concern for location.

E-mail permits easy access across agencies and bureaucratic boundaries. As such, it breaks down barriers to information sharing. This can be as important within an agency as across agency boundaries. Barriers to vertical communications are lowered by removing hierarchical controls to communications.

E-mail can also minimize the need for personnel transfers or expensive temporary assignments. For example, 53 engineers at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)--spread across Massachusetts, Arizona, Colorado, Singapore, and Germany--collaborated on a design project but had never met and had talked on the phone rarely. DEC estimates that this group finished its project one year sooner, and needed 40 percent fewer people, than a team assembled in one building.[2] E-mail is also cost-effective. According to Hewlett-Packard's calculations, a two-page electronic mail message between any two HP employees worldwide cost on average $0.22; a letter $0.51, and a fax $1.66.[3] And e-mail is faster than all other methods, especially when more than one addressee is included.

The infrastructure needed for supporting e-mail is widely in place in universities and research establishments; most agencies that do business with universities--notably those supporting research and education--are major users. Agencies with e-mail capability use it for rapid interaction with the public. Some have incorporated e-mail into processes for grant and contract proposal reviews, saving the time and expense of conventional mail for receipt of comments from expert reviewers of proposals.

Using e-mail, agencies working jointly on national research initiatives, such as the High Performance Computing and Communications Program and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, "meet" and exchange information needed to manage complex cooperative programs. As the infrastructure, personal computers, user-friendly software, and telephone-based access have grown, some agencies have opened facilities for general interaction with the public.

Need for Change

Presently, over a dozen agencies, and (experimentally) the White House and parts of both Houses of Congress are "on-line." Ultimately, most federal employees should be reachable by e-mail. However, much work needs to be done before this can happen. Issues of standards and compatibility must be resolved. Additionally, many agencies desire applications that are still not fully developed, such as file transfers and multimedia mail. Many agencies have electronic mail, but few make it available throughout an agency or use it to maximum advantage. The federal government as a whole has an often incompatible mix of systems. As the utility of linking internal systems together to conduct agency business became apparent (and linking agency internal systems with more global systems), several ad hoc interagency groups were formed to examine various problems related to implementation. However, none of these groups has the authoritative charters to accomplish the myriad tasks that must be completed to optimize e-mail use.

In addition, several potential barriers of "traditional practice" must be dealt with. The most difficult is a lack of understanding about the various potential uses of e-mail. In addition, messages created in the e-mail environment are treated by senders and receivers in much the same way as telephone conversations--privileged personal communications. But messages, unlike telephone calls, are inherently archival, which introduces records management, security, and privacy concerns. The Federal Records Act (FRA) requires that agencies document work that is used to transact official business--regardless of the medium. Because official agency business will be conducted over electronic mail systems, agencies must take steps to ensure that the recordkeeping requirements of the FRA are met. Guidance for agencies in meeting this requirement is not adequate and should be strengthened and extended to reflect changes in records management, privacy, and computer security.


1. Improve electronic mail and messaging among federal agencies. (2)

An existing interagency task force established by the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) should be charged to report by April 1994. The Department of Health and Human Services presently chairs this interagency working group, the E-mail Task Force, supported by the General Services Administration. As authorized by the Paperwork Reduction Act, OIRA is overseeing the task force's work and coordinating it with other initiatives. The task force is drawing expertise from existing interagency information technology groups such as the Federal Information Resources Management Policy Council, the FTS2000 Interagency Management Council, and the High Performance Computing, Communications, and Information Technology Subcommittee of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology. Four goals for this group include:

---Identify support for, provide advice to, and evaluate the results of e-mail pilot programs currently underway. These pilot programs should establish electronic mail capabilities among departmental science and technology advisors and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; departmental legislative affairs offices and the Legislative Liaison Office and parties in the alternative dispute resolution process of the Administrative Conference of the United States.

---Develop and issue a Request for Information to the private sector. The Request for Information will outline the challenges faced by the federal government in its progress toward electronic mail interconnection and solicit possible technical solutions. The task force will evaluate industry responses and use this information to fulfill its other goals.

---Analyze the current use of Internet by federal agencies and its potential contribution to both near and long-term e-mail requirements. Coordinate proposals for improving mail interoperation with the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative via the High Performance Computing, Communications, and Information Technology Subcommittee of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology.

---Develop a near-term program plan, including financial and technical resource requirements, to assist agencies in improving their capabilities for electronic mail.

2. Issue a governmentwide e-mail records management policy. (1)

In consultation with OMB, agencies, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should issue a governmentwide e-mail records management policy by April 1994. Some issues that NARA should consider in revising its policy should include records management, privacy, security, and permissible use.


1. Arpanet was established by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense.

2. Perry, Tekla S., and John A. Adam, "E-mail: Pervasive and Persuasive," IEEE Spectrum (October 1992), p. 24. 3. Ibid., p. 26.

Establish Support Mechanisms for Electronic Government


Electronic government requires an information infrastructure. This infrastructure consists of the technologies needed to allow information to flow smoothly, as well as the operational policies, procedures, and standards that support electronic government applications.

An effective government information infrastructure will lead to complementary and cooperative interagency programs and an integration of databases among these programs. Therefore, privacy and security issues have the greatest priority. The public requires assurance that controls exist to guarantee the integrity, security, and privacy of the information the government maintains.

The government needs to improve the way it buys information technology (IT). Additional Accompanying Reports of the National Performance Review, titled Reinventing Federal Procurement and Reinventing Support Services, contain specific recommendations on improving IT acquisition.

The initiatives in this section of the report require the support and backing of federal, state, and local government as well as industry. Incentives are needed to reward federal managers and private sector contractors for innovations that result in successful reengineering programs.

Although the recommended actions in this report offer potential savings in the billions of dollars, there will be some initial start-up costs for innovative interagency projects. Certain measures can be taken to finance pilot programs. These include creating a governmentwide venture capital fund, initially seeded by taking a small percentage from existing agency IT budgets to avoid the need for new spending appropriations; multi-year funding of IT programs; and retaining savings from IT projects for reinvestment in new IT initiatives.

A key element in realizing the vision of an electronic government is government's approach to improving human resources for IT management and use. Keeping pace with the service demands of citizens and the advances in technology requires a full-scale shift from minimal training to continual strategic learning.

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