Budget cuts hit e-gov efforts hard

In response to a 75 percent cut in e-government funds for the current fiscal year, the White House is terminating the FedSpace social media network for federal employees and scaling back or stopping further improvements to other high-profile online programs, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said.

Congress has reduced the E-Government Fund budget to $8 million for fiscal 2011 from $34 million the previous year. Therefore, the Obama administration has decided it will continue operating transparency websites — including USAspending.gov, Data.gov, Performance.gov and the IT Dashboard — but will not make further improvements or developments, Kundra wrote in a May 24 letter to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee.

Data.gov, the IT Dashboard and Performance.gov are at the core of the administration's open-government efforts. Kundra has credited the dashboard with identifying $3 billion in budget savings through the termination of underperforming programs.

Related stories:

Data.gov begins move to cloud to allow social sharing, more visualization tools

Half of funding for Data.gov, IT Dashboard restored in latest CR

FedSpace running in alpha mode

FedSpace, launched in November 2010 as a pilot program, was designed to be a collaborative social platform that allows federal employees to more easily communicate with one another and set up workgroups.

Plans for a Citizen Services Dashboard have also been canceled, and the implementation of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, in which contractors and grant recipients enter data on federal spending into a Web portal, might be slower because there will be less technical support available, Kundra wrote.

In addition, the administration will be unable to fund efforts to improve data accuracy or increase transparency, he said. For example, plans to enhance the IT Dashboard to better integrate it with agency systems have been postponed.

The budget reduction has forced a reconsideration of all online programs, Kundra added.

“As a result, we have revisited our plans for the [E-Government] Fund for [fiscal] 2011 and altered the scope of several projects,” Kundra wrote. “While we believe that we can make progress on several important initiatives, several projects will experience a sharp decline given the limited amount of funding. No project will go unaffected.”

Congress drastically reduced the E-Government Fund as part of its drawn-out debate over the fiscal 2011 budget. Initially, the fund was to be pared down to $2 million, but supporters got the amount increased to $8 million. Advocates such as Carper and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had pushed to keep the websites operating.

"It is a prudent decision to keep as many of the E-Gov Fund websites operational as possible,” Carper said in a statement. “These websites are an important resource and a critical part of the effort to make the government more open and transparent, while at the same time cutting wasteful and duplicative spending throughout federal agencies.”

In a related development, officials recently announced that Data.gov is shifting to an open-source platform and becoming Data.gov Next Generation. A General Services Administration spokesman said the government used funding left over from fiscal 2010 to pay for the transition, and open-data company Socrata provided some additional services.

“We augmented Data.gov with the services of Socrata with 2010 funding to make Data.gov even more robust, accessible and to provide displays of the raw data in ways the public can use it,” said Steven Hoffman, a GSA spokesman. The amount of fiscal 2010 money used was not immediately available.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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