Presidential mandate

THE SINGLE-MOST challenging job in IT has to be the CTO, office of management and budget (OMB), executive office of the president. Appointed by President George W. Bush, Norman Lorentz is at the head of 24 egovernment initiatives. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard and CTO Media Executive Editor Eve Epstein, Lorentz -- a member of InfoWorld's CTO Advisory Council -- talks about the priorities he has set for the U.S. federal government.

InfoWorld: What are your goals? What is your mission?

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Lorentz: The mission is the president's mission. So one of his key initiatives is to enhance e-government, and that has taken the form of the first 24 initiatives that have been identified out of an activity that was called Quicksilver. And there were about 900 in total activities that were going on at a requirement stage that would fall into a mantle of e-government, and that was distilled ... down to 24.

InfoWorld: There are 24 initiatives now, and these are the e-gov initiatives. Are they all commercial initiatives?

Lorentz: There are four categories ... government-to-government, government-to-citizen, government-to-business, and internal efficiency and effectiveness. And most of those initiatives actually support the other four of the president's areas of focus, which is human capital management, as well as competitive sourcing, so the other four are supported by the initiatives. In the g-to-g area, most of the initiatives are around establishing processes to better manage the human capital of government. I can tell you, it took 90 days for the government to figure out I had previous government service. Ninety days. That's an embarrassment. ... The good news about those processes is a lot of them have been served on the Internet. A lot of them are very robust, very crosscutting, so we have enterprise capabilities that we can bring to play.

That's in areas like payroll and human resources management and those types of things, integration with the financial systems, etc. etc. In the g-to-c space, well the biggest and most important in terms of the citizenry is e-tax, which is the big hitter. And then the other things are basically further getting in touch with government. The ones that are probably the single-most important in terms of focus are the ones that fall under g-to-g, which are the ones that get to the issue of homeland security... And those initiatives while they were hatched by Sept. 11th... the requirements for homeland security were always there. You had the wireless initiative, you have the issue around e-grants (people having a one-stop shop to determine their e-grants), disaster support in terms of preparedness, in terms of support for FEMA, e-vitals which basically keeps track of who we are, if something happens to one of us at least it gives our family the ability to know what happened to one of us, and so forth and so on. So those five initiatives in total are really focused on homeland security. And then the g-to-b is really the business side of things that consumers would like, which is improved streamlining of international processes, regulations, they would like to have an easier interface with the government on HR issues.

InfoWorld: What kind of a budget do you have?

Lorentz: There isn't a specific budget carved out right now because [for] each one of those initiatives there are already redundant efforts under way in government. So literally, we're going in and doing the requirements for the initiatives, and we're looking to see if there's any one of the existing activities under way that's quote-unquote an 80 percent solution, internal benchmark kind of situation. The current budget for 2002 for IT spending in government total, with the latest supplement, is $48 billion. In '03 it's $52 billion, of which $18 billion is new initiatives and new developments. I think it's safe to say there is plenty of money. It's just a matter of determining what the citizen wants and making sure that happens.

InfoWorld: Most IT guys can't get their arms around a single company. How will you put your arms around what is effectively 2,000 companies when you look at all the elements of government?

Lorentz: I am not an operational owner of technology. This CTO position is an appointed position. It's a position that basically works across the operational owners, which are the CIOs and the CIO council. The reason why this position was put into OMB is because this position leverages the budgetary function in OMB in order to ensure the effective technologies and architecture are put in place in order to support the 24 initiatives. The citizens are really, really clear on what they want. Basically, the Internet has completely spoiled the citizenry of this country. From my standpoint I think that's wonderful because they have absolutely no patience with having to do it eight times, 24 times, whatever. They want it how they want it, where they want it, when they want it. They think government should be able to do the same thing. So one of the key issues is to document and effectively understand what the citizen wants and then be absolutely unreasonable about getting it. My job is to connect the dots between those requirements and the enabling technology and if necessary use the budgetary capability to do that.

InfoWorld: So the same way that OMB audits the budgets, you'll be auditing the IT infrastructure?

Lorentz: You bet, with the engagement of the CIO council. I'm not a member of the CIO council because I'm not in that executive order. This title didn't exist at that time. But I sit there on the CIO council and I'm an informal member, if you will, and partner with those CIOs in making sure the right stuff happen.

InfoWorld: Do you have the ultimate say in setting those standards?

Lorentz: I think ultimately, and you would wish that it would never get there, in matters of architecture and consistent technology that's why this position was created. It's been my experience in business and it's no different in government that you never do anything without the participation of the person who owns the process, and I believe that fundamentally. So it has to be a partnership with the agencies and the managing partners.

InfoWorld: Now they may need to make an adjustment in their architecture, but they're at least part of the process.

Lorentz: You bet, absolutely.

InfoWorld: What's the connection back to what you're doing and the military, or is that a separate thing altogether?

Lorentz: No, there is. It's a prime subset. Certainly the military IT budget is included in the $52 billion. I would say that the contacts and contracts between the military and myself are incomplete. I've met for instance with the CTO of the Army--they've done some really incredible things. I know the Air Force and the Navy have as well. So there's actually I feel quite confident that there's benchmark processes out there where the defense area of the government has actally made some pre-eminent progress.

InfoWorld: In fact the Army has some outstanding portal implementation where everybody's got their own home page.

Lorentz: You make a really good point. You don't even have to look outside government to see a benchmark capability.

InfoWorld: It's part of your mission to generate efficiencies and savings?

Lorentz: Savings, absolutely. There has to be an outcome of this. To do it once and use it many times. To remove unplanned redundancy means that there will be some money left over. And that will be redeployed frankly to some areas where we're underinvested.

InfoWorld: Nave you been given any kind of a benchmark?

Lorentz: No.

InfoWorld: How do you balance service and privacy, have you guys thought about it?

Lorentz: We've thought about it, everybody's thought about it. How many privacy statements have you gotten in the last six months at home? It's like God we've choked so many trees, so everybody, it's not just peculiar to government. Everybody is worried about the balance between privacy and really giving the citizens what they want. And really it goes back to what is it that they need of their government. The reason why it's important for there to be a consistent authentication layer is so that we deal with these issues in the most fundamental way, and it will be a dynamic thing.

InfoWorld: And security, obviously.

Lorentz: Certainly in government there are some folks in government who would like to create an internal Internet and put a moat around it...

InfoWorld: And many of them work for three-letter agencies.

Lorentz: Yeah. Funny thing about that. And the approaches and suggestions are consistent with past messages, but again, they're partners. But the issue is, and I'll take for example homeland security. I don't know how you can do homeland security by building a moat. Homeland security is first responders being in contact with the capability to react, and that necessarily means the Internet needs to be open, robust and yet secure. Also, if you're going to use the Internet as the engine to grow this economy, which I think we all believe it is -- and it is whether we want it to be or not -- and that holds true also for government. Because we've got this $52 billion dollar investment, and we have a fiduciary responsible to have as an outcome of spending that juice in this economy. It has to be open yet secure. Again, I heard so many times this morning from the other expert CTOs that you've got here, about the fact that the Internet if robust and secure can react to almost any eventuality, it heals itself, I mean by its very nature. One of the fellows talked about the fact that he was in Boston... So I think the Internet is the same way, self-healing, secure. I think the security has to be in layers. It doesn't mean everything will have the same level of security, but it's going to have to be done in layers.

InfoWorld: Most IT guys struggle with the business side of their organizations, trying to explain value of technology and how it works. Your business side are politicians essentially, a lot of them are. Is that a different set of challenges?

Lorentz: Oh yes. Really. It genuinely is. I was in the postal service for six years, and I thought I worked for the government. I really didn't. I worked for a special part of government. And so I truly have learned in the short term -- the 90 days I've been here -- I've certainly learned some about what our forefathers put in place. And it works. It genuinely works. And the checks and balances are there. But the one thing I can say to you bluntly is that same bipartisan, singular focus that was created Sept. 11th is still alive. The few times I've been up on the Hill to talk to representatives, they have been very, very supportive and have asked me what it is that I need. And for instance coming from their direction we need to move away from necessarily doing appropriations in the silos called the agencies and more into doing appropriations into cross-cutting initiatives like the 24 initiatives. I asked them for that, didn't see a blink. So I mean there is a singularity in purpose that still exists. But it obviously is a little different than everything I've experienced before.

InfoWorld: Have you met the guy who invented the Internet?

Lorentz: No. I haven't. I would like to. Who is that? I have to say that some of the stuff that obviously there was some good stuff that was done in the administration before this one.

InfoWorld: How about outreach to states and local government, especially for homeland security?

Lorentz: Oh, critical. We have a key partnership with... the association of state CIOs, and they have a representative that sits on the CIO council. We will not be successful with homeland security if we don't do that vertical integration between state, local and federal. Have to do that. So when you look at geo-spacial as an example, you don't just look at applying that across the agencies, you look at driving that down into state and local and making that consistent and available... the one thing I do need to mention is we have put in place four very capable portfolio managers, and these portfolio managers like myself work for (Associate Director for IS) Mark Forman in OMB and these gentlemen support the managing partners in those four portfolio areas and drive out those issues, and together we're putting in robust program management capabilities across the portfolios to make sure all the dots connect. That's a very very important thing to do to make sure that the architecture and all of the cross-cutting process impacts are injected at just the right time. But those four capable human beings are certainly charged with a lot of those horizontal and vertical issues.

InfoWorld: There's a lot of the potential in these broadband bills moving through Congress, and much of what you're talking about in terms of your goals seems to me like we're going to need broadband in rural places, to give everybody that's interested the same level of access to all of the services. So do you guys have a position on this bill, what are you looking for?

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