A GOP-led Congress could boost IT investment, focus on management
Last week's mid-term elections, which gave the Republican Party the majority in both the House and the Senate, could have an immediate impact with a swift passage of legislation creating the Homeland Security Department, while changes in key congressional committees should shape information technology policy in the year ahead.
The creation of the Homeland Security Department clearly tops the agenda. In a news conference after the elections last week, President Bush called on Congress to put the Homeland Security Department bill on a fast track and pass it before leaving town this fall.
"The most important thing to get done, I want to emphasize, is to get a Department of Homeland Security finished," Bush said Nov. 7.
Observers said that the power shift should boost prospects of creating the new agency. "It will be smooth sailing for the Department of Homeland Security," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America.
The GOP-controlled Congress also is likely to put a number of IT issues on a fast track, including government- sponsored terrorism insurance for firms doing business with the government, sources say.
Bush administration officials say terrorism insurance will create thousands of jobs that have been delayed because companies have been unwilling to handle security-related business unless their liability is limited.
Although the Republican wins are helpful for the administration, Bush faces a delicate balancing act, as the majority in the Senate is small, said Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. If the GOP does not work with the Democrats, Senate Democrats will be able to hold up legislation through procedural maneuvers.
Furthermore, the administration is in a "fiscal straightjacket," he noted.
"They have made a promise to do this without additional cost, and that is absurd on its face."
There were numerous winners and losers for the IT community as well. Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), a longtime champion of federal workers, lost her bid for a ninth term.
But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an advocate for IT issues, is expected to be the new chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Collins worked for former Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), the co-author of the Clinger-Cohen Act, but she did not work directly on the legislation, which has become a cornerstone for government IT management.
Nevertheless, she has always had an interest in this area, according to Paul Brubaker, chief executive officer of Aquilent Inc., who also worked on Cohen's staff.
Collins, as chairwoman of the committee, would put implementation of Clinger-Cohen "high on the agenda," Brubaker said.
As part of the congressional musical chairs that will occur in the coming months, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a supporter of procurement reform, will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), currently chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, is expected to seek the chairmanship of the full committee and would likely take technology issues with him.
"Rep. Davis will make the case why he's the best choice for the Government Reform chair, based on his many accomplishments as chairman of the D.C. and Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittees," said David Marin, Davis' spokesman.
"His interest and experience in these issues will continue, and he'll want to maintain his legislative ownership over them," Marin added.
Homeland security legislation, the Bush administration's top priority, will undoubtedly loom over lawmakers when they return to Washington, D.C., this week.
The bill would bring about the largest reorganization of the federal government since 1947. Although it passed the House, Senate Democrats had been holding up the bill in a dispute about whether to exempt federal employees working in the new department from civil service rules and other labor protections. But now with Republican control, the logjam is expected to be broken.
"Moving forward with this bill will definitely impact government IT positively, since the House-passed bill recognizes the critical role technology must play in protecting our homeland," Marin said.
Marin said GOP control over both chambers "offers an opportunity to move some bills that have been stalled in the Senate." Among them is Davis' Digital Tech Corps legislation that passed in the House in April but hasn't made it through the Senate. The measure would allow mid-level IT managers in federal agencies and private companies to swap jobs for at least six months and up to two years.
"In the long term, what this means is that the president will be able to move forward with his agenda," said Christopher Baum, a vice president at Gartner Inc. "I think you are going to see a big increase in issues around homeland security — not just physical security but electronic security."
The first order of business when Congress returns Nov. 12 for a lame-duck session is continuing funding for government operations. To date, Congress has passed only one of the appropriations bills for fiscal 2003. It is likely that lawmakers will pass a short-term bill to keep government running at its current levels and deal with the problem when the 108th Congress is sworn into office in January.
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