Congress likely to partially restore eGov funding
Transparency advocates claimed a partial victory in the inclusion of $12.4 million for the flagship Electronic Government Fund in the omnibus spending package that is going before Congress for a vote on Dec. 16.
The eGov fund pays for high-profile open government and innovation initiatives including Data.gov, Federal IT Dashboard, Challenge.gov and Performance.gov. It is administered by the General Services Administration.
White House and GSA officials, along with open government groups, had pressed Congress to restore the eGov funding that lawmakers had dramatically cut earlier this year. The fund plunged to $8 million in fiscal 2011, down from $34 million in fiscal 2010.
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While a House fiscal 2012 spending package set aside an estimated $16 million level for the fund, Senate members allocated an estimated $7 million, and the $12.4 million was the final number negotiated in a joint conference and released on Dec. 15. House and Senate leaders have said they intend to vote on the package on Dec. 16.
The transparency advocates also cheered Congress’ decision to keep the eGov funding as a separate line item. In the previous House and Senate bills, the eGov fund was combined with another fund for citizen services, making it difficult to estimate exact figures for each fund.
However, there is still some uncertainty about whether the terms for the eGov allocation are final and will be approved, according to Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation transparency group.
“Of course, this is not a done deal,” Schuman wrote in the blog. “The bill we're looking at appears to be the negotiated agreement between the House and the Senate, although I've seen a report indicating that negotiations may still be ongoing.”
Even so, he credited Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) for their efforts in partially restoring the eGov funding, as well as Twitter supporters of eGov funding.
“Sen. Carper and Rep. Issa deserve a lot of credit for fighting for these important transparency programs, as do our coalition partners (like OMB Watch) and thousands of people around the U.S. who have called on Congress to #savethedata,” Schuman wrote on the foundation’s blog on Dec. 15.
“While $12.4 million is far less than was available just a few years ago, it should be enough to keep these key programs alive and allow for a slow but steady rate of innovation,” Schuman added.
“The eGov Fund is back to being a separate fund, which we’re pleased with,” added Gavin Baker, federal information policy analyst for OMB Watch, a watchdog group.
Previously, the eGov fund was slated to be combined with the Federal Citizen Services Fund. Under the new proposal, the citizen fund is maintained at $34 million, the same as in fiscal 2011 and slightly less than the $36 million it received in fiscal 2010, Baker said.
Keeping the funds separate would decrease the likelihood that one program would leach funds out of the other, Schuman added, and would help ensure that the eGov funds are used for their statutory purposes.