Congress blamed for poor e-gov performance

OMB says falling scores reflect reluctance of Congress to fund cross-agency programs

Agencies seeing lowered e-government scores on the Office of Management and Budget’s quarterly report cards may not be wholly to blame. OMB said agencies often have difficulty getting congressional approval for funding needed to cover the cost of e-government services. OMB has also made an effort to side-step appropriators and pay for e-government with agency contributions.

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“We are going to continue to reach out to Congress on e-gov and work with them to ensure that e-gov projects are able to provide the greater levels of services demanded by our citizens,” said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management.

On the Executive Branch Management Scorecard for the second quarter of this fiscal year, released May 6, nine agencies’ scores were downgraded for their lack of progress in instituting e-government initiatives. The second quarter runs from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Cards show falling scores

The score cards measure performance on five initiatives, but the most dramatic change appears to be in e-government, said Austin Russ, chief enterprise architect at consulting firm Robbins-Gioia.

In the latest review, the scores fell to their lowest levels since March 2004, when two agencies earned green, 13 had yellow and 11 received red. This quarter, three agencies had green, 14 had yellow and nine had red.

A green score means an agency is implementing its initiatives as planned; it is the top rating an agency can receive. Yellow shows a need for adjustments to achieve the objectives in a timely manner, and red means an initiative is in serious jeopardy.

“The score card highlights what requires management’s attention,” Russ said.

“Unfortunately, appropriators continue to underfund e-government projects and restrict the use of funds for these initiatives,” said Robert White, a spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. The committee does not appropriate money, but it oversees how the administration spends federal funds.

To offset inadequate funding through appropriations, OMB has been gathering funds from agencies and dipping into the overall federal information technology budget, which is currently about $62 billion. Agencies committed to contributing more than $192 million toward funding e-government initiatives in fiscal 2006, according to an OMB report released in January.

“E-government initiatives require collaboration among agencies,” White said. “But Congress continues to prohibit agencies from contributing money to these efforts. This is what happens when you fund e-government projects agency by agency instead of governmentwide.” As people demand that more government information and services be readily available online, Congress may discover that more funding needs to go to e-government.

Since 2001, OMB has analyzed departments and agencies quarterly to mark their progress in five governmentwide initiatives: workforce, competitive sourcing, financial performance, e-government, and budget and performance integration. The Bush administration believes that improving the performance of agencies in those areas will improve the management and performance of the government as a whole.

Case by case

The most recent score card showed the Transportation Department and the Office of Personnel Management as having the biggest downward trends in e-government during the past three consecutive quarters. DOT fell from green to yellow to red in three quarters after six consecutive green scores. OPM scored red after three straight quarters of yellow and six consecutive quarters of green.

However, the Social Security Administration’s score improved to green, joining the Labor Department and the National Science Foundation, which brings the total number of green scores in the e-government category to three.

Seven agencies had lower e-government scores than on past reports, including the Commerce, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice departments; the Environmental Protection Agency; NASA; and the Small Business Administration.

An agency’s enterprise architecture, appropriate planning and management of major information technology investments, and certification and accreditation are factors in determining an e-government score.

More than half of the agencies showed no improvements in any category on the latest score card. Labor continued to be the only agency with green scores in all five areas. The Department of Veterans Affairs had the lowest overall scores, with four reds and a yellow.

The Homeland Security Department moved from yellow to green in competitive sourcing — its only green score. At a recent hearing, however, the House Government Reform Committee hammered DHS’ Federal Emergency Management Agency for its contracting bungles after Hurricane Katrina last year.

The U.S. Agency for International Development climbed from red to yellow in financial performance, and Justice moved from yellow to green in budget and performance integration.

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