by Michael Goldberg

Government IT: Uncle Sam Wants Web Services

Oct 01, 20023 mins
Web Development

When Mark Forman talks, people listen for two reasons. As associate director of IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Forman is using information technology to make the federal government more efficient and more responsive to citizens, all while ending a legacy of information silos that guards the bureaucratic status quo. You might say that Forman is doing a deity’s work. And everyone who believes in better government is rooting for him.

The second reason people listen to Forman: Government is where the IT action is right now. As stagnant IT spending talk continues among corporate CIOs, another federal budget year begins this month and you can hear the dollars whooshing through the halls of agencies large and small in Washington, D.C. (see “Going Up,” below). The OMB projects the federal government will spend nearly $53 billion on IT in fiscal 2003. That’s a 25 percent hike from just two years ago.

It’s no wonder then that Forman, who directs the activities of the federal CIO Council, was one of the featured speakers at a Web services conference this summer in Boston sponsored by The Open Group ( To Forman, Web services (built so that applications can talk to each other using Internet technology standards) are vehicles for integrating systems and business processes across all those agency silos?and a way to catch up to the use of IT in the private sector, which he said is traditionally two years ahead of government.

“We’ve got to adopt simple business processes. We have silos of information that we must simplify and unify. The client/server systems [trend] of the 1990s was a boon for the bureaucracy because information is power,” Forman said at the conference. “Basically [the OMB’s agenda] is a vision of ERP.”

But not just any kind of ERP. Think big scale. There are 22,000 federal government-hosted websites, with an estimated 180 million documents online. Every agency has its own payroll and procurement systems, and yet different agencies and cabinet departments have different ways of dealing with the public and each other. (The OMB likes to use e-mail to get comments from other agencies, but the Interior Department relies on mail and faxes, said Forman.) Then there’s a need to automate data interchange between federal entities and 50 different state governments.

The former Unisys e-business vice president said the development of Web services will help the OMB and federal CIO Council develop a “component-based enterprise architecture that addresses the business lines, data, information and technology necessary to meet our missions,” whether that means helping a business navigate export rules, helping a citizen apply for Social Security benefits or coordinating information among agencies under the Homeland Defense umbrella. All that to do, of course, while protecting citizens’ privacy and national security.

It’s a formidable challenge, but Forman thinks that not all of it should be daunting. “Reorganizing the federal government is very difficult. But providing services across agencies should not be very difficult,” he said. “We spend a lot of energy justifying silos. Government has to become a click-and-mortar enterprise, from our customer interfaces to our supply chain.”