eGov Prompts Ambitious Agency Efforts

FAA, SBA, others aim to find the right formula for meeting e-regulations.

Two years ago, soon after enactment of federal mandates to make information accessible to constituents online, the Federal Aviation Administration scrambled to get its compliance effort off the ground. Various departments within the agency that managed their own Web pages began posting information in an inconsistent fashion. The result: a hodgepodge site that took as long for pilots and other constituents to navigate as some airport security lines.

So, last year, the agency did an about-face. Despite mounting pressure to meet the looming October 2003 deadline for important eGov regulations such as the GPEA (Government Paperwork Elimination Act), officials at the FAA decided to step back and develop an agencywide strategy that would allow the FAA to not only meet e-government mandates, but also streamline the way the agency does business online by adopting standard technologies and business processes.

The FAA isnt the only organization struggling to find the best formula for meeting new eGov regulations requiring the secure migration of documents and business processes online. In the federal government, other agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, are replacing ad hoc approaches toward complying with new eGov regulations with more coordinated methods based on common processes and standard technologies such as search engines, Web content management systems and databases.

Outside of federal government, where online security and privacy regulations have begun to proliferate, many enterprises could learn a thing or two from the measured, coordinated approach adopted by the FAA, experts say. Already, the financial services industry has had to comply with the privacy regulations of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, while health-care-related organizations struggle to meet the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, deadline next year.

While technology vendors are being challenged to upgrade their products to meet the requirements of National Information Assurance Acquisition Policy, or NSTISSP No. 11, the eGov regulation that has lit a fire under many agencies—including the FAA—has been the GPEA. The act, signed into law in October 1998, requires agencies to allow citizens to use electronic methods when filing or retrieving information. Government agencies have been concentrating on the GPEA because it will require them to integrate and automate many paper-based processes and because of the vast number of documents that will need to be placed online to meet the 2003 deadline.

After regrouping last year, the FAA set out to comply with the GPEA by forming a group called the CIO Council, co-chaired by Deputy CIO Art Pyster and Tom Fulcher, program director of the information management division, in Washington, and staffed by technology representatives from the agency. The group meets weekly to discuss corporate initiatives; decide policies; and prioritize projects including data management, information security systems, control access and Web content management.

Since formation of the group, the changes have been drastic, Pyster said. The FAA, which each year collects 19 million documents from constituents such as pilots, identified its top 10 paper-based processes and chose to tackle those projects first. The No. 1 priority: flight plans. More than 17.5 million documents collected yearly by the FAA are flight plans filed by private pilots and airlines that wish to fly in controlled airspace.

Last year, the FAA deployed customized applications, including a data management program, that enable pilots to file their flight plans online. Pilots can use an automated telephone system, a computer terminal in an FAA office or, the old-fashioned way, on paper. And, the agency didnt want to just throw the forms online, as it might have done two years ago. This time around, departments worked together to redesign the Web site to make navigation easier and established a Web Council to develop standards for how information will be presented online.

Some federal agencies have taken the idea of a structured, coordinated approach to e-government compliance further by working with other agencies to develop streamlined processes. The SBA, for example, was named a managing director on a cross-agency initiative with nine federal agencies to create a one-stop online site where small businesses can find information to comply with government rules and regulations. Next, the agency plans to launch online applications and is looking at the use of electronic digital signatures, public-key infrastructure and XML-based documents to, for example, allow businesses to apply for loans online, said SBA CIO Lawrence Barrett, in Washington.

In the end, experts say, taking a coordinated approach to complying with eGov mandates such as the GPEA probably wont mean all federal government will be prepared to do business 24-by-7 by next years deadline. But agencies such as the SBA and the FAA appear to be on the right track.

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at

Links to other stories in this package
eGov Challenges Tech
Grappling With Compliance
Additional eGov Web Resources