Rob Gurwitt is a GOVERNING contributor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps because their experience with online government is so new, local governments remain unsure of how to make room for it within their organizations. In many--probably in most--it remains the domain of information technology staff. But this, says Byron West, Denver's director of television and Internet services, "is like trying to steer the ship from the engine room." This is why a growing number of public officials are coming to recognize that their jurisdiction's Web presence demands the attention of upper-level managers.
In Miami-Dade County, for instance, the county's webmaster, Judi Zito, has recently moved from the technology department to the county's communications department. "We didn't have coordination when it came to content," she says, explaining the move. The result is that Zito answers to two bosses: She's the e-government program manager for the county's CIO, helping set overall Web strategy for the county, and she's the manager of online services for its communications director, administering the actual Web portal and managing its content. In addition, the technology department continues to host the site; "they're the pipes and server people," as Zito puts it.
San Diego's city Web site is under the control of Diane Norman, the e-government program manager. She is in charge of a group of Web designers, who work in turn with each city department. Norman works with the city's CIO to fit her group's activities into a larger strategic plan for using information technology, which was developed by the city's department heads and managers. "The Web site is just the enabler," she says.
Denver has created a new position, chief of e-government, which is filled on an acting basis by Finance Director Margaret Browne. But just as important, it has also formed two working groups that will ultimately be responsible for how the city configures itself to take advantage of information technology. There is an e-government leaders team, which is made up of the city's top managers, who meet every other week for two hours. Then there is an "operational" leaders team, made up of the city's top technology officials, who focus on feasibility, standards and other technological issues.
The point, says Browne, is that "resolving the issues of who controls what, how you share this system and how you delegate control is really quite an undertaking in a traditional bureaucracy with clear silos. What I've learned is you have to do a lot of planning, and be collaborative; you've got to work across these different agency responsibilities."