Law to Aid Cyber-Collaboration

E-Government Act to integrate security efforts faces uphill battle.

A new effort to standardize security and programs for the governments online initiatives is promising streamlined services, but critics say communication gaps could still threaten the process.

The E-Government Act of 2002, signed into law last week by President Bush, was crafted to improve information services management and promote collaboration on IT projects among myriad federal agencies. It creates an Office of E-Government within the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is designed to encourage accountability with regard to online government services, according to officials. In addition, it establishes a board that will select technologies to promote collaboration and a program to assess and finance emerging anti-terrorism technologies.

The legislation is slated to make it easier for the private sector to work collaboratively with the federal government by requiring that agencies post regulatory changes online.

"Interaction between government and business is going to be pushed into an Internet environment," said David McLure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government, in Washington, which promoted the legislation.

So far, however, federal efforts to migrate to a Web-based services model have not been without hurdles. The Federal Communications Commission, for example, has made great strides in transitioning its spectrum licensing and auction services online, but the process has angered many businesses that use the systems.

"The issue basically is an insensitivity to the need of businesses to know about changes being made on the systems," said a source in the communications industry who asked not to be named. "Theyll go through and change a protocol and wont tell us, and then applications begin to bounce. Businesses feel there is not a lot of communication between the government and the people who use their systems."

A provision in the act on information security management, which closely resembles a similar provision in the recently enacted Homeland Security Act, requires agencies to regularly test for security lapses and fix them. The provision imposes a "very robust security management expectation" on agencies, McLure said.

Proponents of the act expect it will encounter challenges in implementation. Because federal agencies serve different constituencies and are responsible to different congressional committees, they tend to develop in line with particular interests.

"Agencies do not naturally work together," said Patricia McGinnis, president and CEO of the CEG.