Moving Government into the Computer Age Isn’t Easy

Implementing e-government initiatives throughout government is difficult and no one knows the true cost. GAO wants better estimates from OPM on the cost savings to be realized.

“Electronic government” refers to using the Internet to improve government service and access to these services. It also refers to improving the efficiency of how agencies accomplish their mission.

The Office of Personnel Management has five e-government initiatives. These projects are to transform the way personnel services and functions are accomplished in the federal government.

No one said it would be easy and transforming a large bureaucracy is always daunting. Convincing hundreds of government organizations to change some of their core systems when they have been using some of those forms and processes for decades has to be daunting.

But, to its credit, OPM is giving it a solid try. Here is a quick list of these OPM e-government initiatives:

“Recruitment One-Stop”

This initiative seeks to provide a one-stop Web site (USAJobs) for federal job seekers through a single application point.


Improve the efficiency and speed by which federal government clearances are granted.

Enterprise Human Resources Integration

Provide a place to store human resources data to replace the paper Official Personnel File with an Official Electronic Record

e-Training Support

A project to provide simplified, one-stop access to high-quality Internet-based training products.


Improve federal payroll operations by consolidating 22 existing federal payroll system providers; simplifying and standardizing policies and procedures; and better integrating federal payroll, human resources, and finance functions.

GAO has just issued a report on these initiatives. Not surprisingly, GAO thinks OPM will run into resistance from agencies who will be required to shut down their existing systems (“They worked since 1925 and still haven’t failed!”) and invest in new technology to move to consolidated systems.

That conclusion certainly isn’t surprising and one can presume OPM knew it would run into massive resistance from agencies–some of which really like the tried and true OPF system. Any competent manager can look at an agency and also see the problems of moving to a new system like this.

In the private sector making changes like this in a big company are just as painful. But change often happens quicker because the company with the best, most efficient, cheapest system will prevail in our economic system (Think of Wal-Mart and its use of information technology to wipe out untold thousands of other stores.) In the absence of a significant profit motive or the necessity to change in order to survive, it is much easier to continue an existing system than go through the pain of a brand new one that will be expensive and create problems before it works the way it should.

Moreover, GAO says that OPM has not done a realistic estimate of the costs involved. The GAO says “OPM needs to establish complete, meaningful, and quantitative measures of cost savings.”

The bottom line of the GAO report: OPM has made progress e-government initiatives, which, if fully implemented, could have significant benefits and may save a great deal of money. But there is no realistic cost savings estimate available and GAO thinks OPM should do a better job of making these estimates.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47