E-gov faces budget cuts

It's not officially summer until Congress cuts the Office of Management and Budget's e-government funding request. The House Appropriations Committee called the initiative fundamentally flawed and reduced OMB's e-government fiscal 2006 budget from $5 million in directly appropriated funds to $3 million, just $24,000 more than was appropriated for fiscal 2005.

The committee voted June 21 for the cuts as part of the Treasury, Transportation and independent agencies fiscal 2006 bill. It now faces a vote by the full House and a markup of a similar version by a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

In addition, the committee rejected an OMB request to use $40 million in excess funds generated by the General Services Administration for e-government projects in fiscal 2006.

In a report accompanying the bill, committee members chastised OMB for wanting to spend GSA's money. "If OMB seeks funding for an initiative under its direction, OMB should request those funds under its own appropriations complete with a comprehensive budget justification," the report states.

The committee also directed GSA in cases where it is running a surplus of at least $40 million to "evaluate the pricing structure of its services" to determine if GSA is overcharging agencies.

E-government officials have urged better communications with Congress, while also complaining about a legislative appropriations structure that reinforces departmental stovepipes.

"There is blame enough to go around," said Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International and former chief of information policy and technology at OMB.

Authorizing committees have been more supportive of e-government than appropriators, but a longtime chasm exists between those who say how they would like money to be spent and those who dole out taxpayer dollars.

"They generally have not liked each other and not wanted to work with each other," said Melissa Wojciak, staff director of the House Government Reform Committee, at a recent conference in Washington, D.C.

That hostility has been a gaming tool for the agencies, Wojciak added. Agencies can undermine governmentwide efforts by appealing to appropriators to evade having to cooperate. The House report criticizes e-government for "forcing conformity to an arbitrary government standard."

But the situation is better than it once was, Wojciak said. "Change is slow to come to the Hill as well, but it's coming," she added.

Waiting for comprehensive reorganization means waiting too long to institute e-government, said a former OMB official who requested anonymity. A restructured appropriations process is an unrealistic goal, the official said, adding Congress is unlikely to abandon its subcommittee organization.

Forging ahead will require OMB to do a "better job of showing the benefits, including constituent benefits" for e-government, the former official said.

But overall, OMB has not fared badly during the House appropriations process so far. Its budget was increased by $8.5 million from the president's request to $76.9 million, largely to add more staff dedicated to preparation of the budget.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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