Building Digital Roads and Bridges

After 20 years of technology proliferation and integration in the public sector, government has become totally dependent on the use of IT solutions to conduct daily...
by | May 28, 2009

After 20 years of technology proliferation and integration in the public sector, government has become totally dependent on the use of IT solutions to conduct daily business. Emergency 911 systems, classroom materials, social service benefits and revenue collection are unimaginable today without the use of information and communications technology. Now new reporting requirements such as those included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have raised the bar forever on accountability in government and the granularity of the data that must be collected, managed and reported to ensure transparency and prevent waste, fraud and mismanagement.

Investments made in government's digital infrastructure over the last two decades have created an enormous value for the American public. We are able to deliver better service and timely reports while providing greater access to citizens who are accustomed to a 24/7 self-service Internet world. And, as a result, federal agencies, states and local jurisdictions now own highly valuable, widely distributed national digital assets -- which, if leveraged holistically, can provide the accountability citizens are looking for.

However, there are challenges to our ability as a nation to provide a digital infrastructure that will be up to the task.

First, unauthorized access to these assets represents an enormous risk to government operations and, depending on the context, a potential national security risk. Huge vulnerabilities to citizen and government information are exposed as more and more cyber attacks driven by profit and other ulterior motives occur.

Second, a myriad of barriers in the areas of policy, people, funding, rules and regulations prevent us from a more transformative and cohesive approach. Technology in government is too often fragmented, decentralized and underleveraged; we have a workforce on the verge of retirement and a burdensome workflow; legacy systems proliferate across all levels of government, exacerbating the risk to government operations; and committee structures and program funding streams developed over the past generations now perpetuate the old silos that stand in the way of innovation.

Citizens do not recognize these silos. For the most part, citizens don't even distinguish among federal, state or local government, multiplying the enormity of the problem of serving them effectively. When something goes wrong, citizens expect action. Whether it is a hurricane, a flood or a tornado, they expect "government" to be responsive, seamless and collaborative. And if the they are not served quickly and well, we in government, in citizens' minds, fail and lose their trust.

To prepare for a new level of performance expectation from government operations, to address security issues, and to create a new level of inter-governmental transparency, serious investments are needed over the next decade to enhance connectivity, ensure cyber-security, modernize legacy systems, reengineer manually intensive business processes, and realize energy efficiency through consolidated data centers and other green initiatives.

But before embarking on the journey to further improve government performance in a 24/7 world, we must rethink the underlying principles that define our investments and our approaches. Strategies successful in the past will not create the desired outcomes in the future. We need to invent a new way of architecting, managing and funding government operations, and a new technology development approach. This shift requires a comprehensive national perspective. To deliver government information and services the way citizens want -- on demand and with complete transparency -- we must devise solutions through federal, state and local collaborative efforts that transcend the compartmentalized, jurisdictionally controlled silos of the 20th century.

That is why I propose the establishment of a Secure Government National Architectural Framework. This horizontal governance program for and across all levels of government would provide a broader outlook and a more holistic national view of government operations. It also would provide the framework for accountability and transparency we need in today's more horizontal, real-world IT environment that permits us to pursue simultaneously three necessary and parallel paths. The first path is a near-term tactical focus on managing the current environment as effectively as possible. The second and more important path is a framework to plan a future to achieve our national goals -- strategically, thoughtfully, and with a compelling sense of urgency. The third path is an investment strategy that focuses on adoption and migration to a future architecture and the retirement of legacy systems.

A Secure Government National Architectural Framework can enable consistency and interoperability across all of government and bridge the gap between multi-jurisdictional stakeholders and implementers while maintaining jurisdictional independence. If well planned and executed, it can provide the blueprint for better government at all levels and reduce the gap in understanding that results from the increasing complexity of individual environments. It can provide a common structure on which to develop, procure, maintain, secure and decommission IT assets. With such a framework, governments can work together with a renewed focus on the accountability, transparency, and active engagement of our citizenry.

Can we do it? I believe we can. Let's not forget that government has a track record of improving the discipline of its own IT management. The federal government got the ball rolling when it established federal agency CIOs and, through the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, instituted the federal Enterprise Architecture. For their part, states are increasingly realizing the benefits of repeatable and disciplined project management processes with established standards and measurement criteria. Some have established state enterprise architectures to close the gap between the current "as-is" business and technology environment and the target "to-be" environment that supports new collaborative goals and strategies. Portfolio management is emerging as a critical governance process that provides decision makers the analysis that ensures limited resources deliver the biggest bang for the buck. From strategic planning at the front end, to outcomes assessment at the back end, states are drawing on the power of fact-based decision-making and best practices to leverage the IT resources in their stewardship.

It is time to capture and channel that federal and state knowledge to take the step most critical to the national interest and most vital for the future: horizontal IT governance and architecture that slices across the silos to realize the secure, ubiquitous, self-service, citizen-centric government operations model of the future and creates a new forward-leaning policy perspective that views IT as a program in government. Now is the time for us step up and demonstrate innovation using the technology that has matured to the level where we can maintain jurisdictional identity while providing a responsive, secure federal-state-local continuum of service to citizens.

To meet our goals, the proposed Secure Government National Enterprise Architecture must leverage the Federal Enterprise Architecture and support formal, ongoing intergovernmental collaboration among the Office of Management and Budget; the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer; the president's chief technology officer, chief performance officer and cyber security czar; and the offices of state- and local-government CIOs. What we are learning from implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act can complement the best practices of the private sector to help us improve internal operations and become customer-centric, accountable and productive in the highly competitive, globalized digital world. With our combined experience, we can create a broader and more national framework of governance principles and best practices that can underpin a Secure Government National Enterprise Architecture. At the same time, we can boost state government capabilities for enterprise architecture and governance by sharing innovative, sustainable funding approaches within and across state boundaries and by bringing together innovations from corporate, government, and non-profit partners.

Our support of collaborative initiatives will bring state perspectives to federal and national programs and develop inter-enterprise architectures along all lines of business. At the same time, collaboration and information sharing will foster efficiencies and best practices that can be replicated across the states to reduce costs and make government more effective and transparent. This is necessary to secure our nation's IT assets and eliminate waste.

Essentially, this is a strategic, cross-jurisdictional, collaborative national initiative that will bring all levels of federal, state and local government together for a common national purpose that mirrors the effort that once created a national highway system to connect America coast to coast. The investment in highways ushered in an era of unprecedented economic growth and vitality and fostered America's pre-eminence in the 20th century.

A national digital cyber framework -- made possible by a Secure Government National Enterprise Architecture -- would serve the citizens and facilitate the economic vitality in the digital age that guarantees America's pre-eminence in the 21st century. And it would provide a platform for the United States to initiate a global conversation about mutually beneficial international collaboration that would give us the power to connect, communicate, transact and trade within a safe environment in every corner of the world.

Where will this vision take us? This vision builds for us a future by design, not default. It will define a reality, not a dream -- a future we can start today.