Editorial: Lobbying for lobbyists

Steve Cooper must have experienced some relief when he spoke at a recent conference about the continuing problems of information sharing among agencies.

Four months after leaving his post as the Homeland Security Department's chief information officer, Cooper clearly felt free to offer unfiltered views and advice about an issue that plagued him throughout his tenure at DHS. The issue will dog his successor and other federal CIOs unless people governmentwide change how they think. One idea in particular was striking, if a bit unseemly, and deserves further debate.

His premise was nothing new. Many people have observed that the appropriations process often inadvertently makes information sharing difficult. By their very nature, information- sharing programs cut across agency boundaries, and those boundaries often cut across appropriations subcommittees. Such a fragmented view complicates the holistic approach information sharing requires.

Cooper, though, suggests a promising approach, one that works the system rather than trying to fix it.

Industry executives, who frequently lobby their representatives to support particular projects, ought to take to Capitol Hill on behalf of information-sharing programs, Cooper said. Many people dislike lobbying, seeing it as a source of much of the pork in the budget at the end of the appropriations process. But an essential element of lobbying is education.

Worthwhile programs often receive funding because lobbyists have done a good job of explaining their benefits to senators or representatives who otherwise would have seen no cause to support them. Ideally, congressional appropriators could find everything they need by reviewing the business case studies that agencies prepare for the Office of Management and Budget. But budget documents do not always command their attention the way a constituent and potential campaign donor might.

As distasteful as it sounds, some information-sharing initiatives might gain some ground if people with vested interests and subject-matter expertise would advance their causes. Cooper, now happily ensconced at the American Red Cross, makes a good argument, even if it's one a lot of people do not want to hear.

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