In the US … Funding delays stall expansion of online identification

I don’t envy the position the e-authentication project team seem to be in over in the USA … An article in GovExec notes that money is tight and deadlines might be missed because of it.

The e-authentication project, one of President Bush’s 24 initiatives to put more government services online, seeks to allow individuals to garner identification credentials to sign and transmit documents and transact other business online with government agencies. Adrian Fish, GSA’s deputy project manager, said at an E-Gov conference on Tuesday that officials might miss a target for launching the gateway because of funding issues. ‘Our milestone had been September of this year. … I don’t think we’re going to make it now … What we have now is an interim gateway that does work. It can continue to do business, but it’s not really where we want to be’.

When we built the UK Gateway, we had the money up front thanks to a funding bid by, amongst others, the Inland Revenue. That allowed us to build the initial release and then subsequent bids gave us enough to develop it further. We now have a fully functional Gateway that connects 10 or so departments today and handles thousands of transactions a day. Had we been tasked with collecting the money some other way, perhaps from individual departmental contributions, we would not have succeeded – government (and I single out no particular one here) is not geared to working on joined up projects: the accounting is complicated, the audit and review process very involved and the accountability even more unclear.

To have developed the initial release and then suffer from funding delays must be a huge challenge for the project team. All e-government work so far is about funding hump investments upfront. Joined up projects all the more so. They offer little immediate likelihood of a return on investment – not until there is significant take-up of services will we see that (and it’s likely that we’re 10+ years from that if you are pessimistic … although I think quite a lot sooner). This reality tends to focus departments on building their own systems, their own portals, gateways or networks because the path to a return is much clearer (and the money can be managed through existing budgets, from the baseline so to speak). Anytime you pop your hard above the investment parapet and try to do a joined up piece of work, things get tougher.

For joined up projects to work, funding must be directly pointed at them. Departments must be incentivised to partner and disincentivised from building their own systems or solutions. This requires a lot of new thinking and new processes – both at business case, funding approval, management review and later audit review. Without these changes or without this being in place on day one (for those countries still developing their strategies), then solutions proliferate, usage is low and return on investment is multi-decades.

A government with 1000 or more websites cannot declare itself citizen focused nor can a government that requires its people to learn who it is, rather than the other way round.

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