Hill shifts leave IT fate unclear

Several members of Congress who have had a hand in how the government buys and uses information technology will depart key committee posts next year, leaving the fate of IT in the 106th Congress unclear, according to industry sources and congressional staff members.

One of the most significant changes for IT involves Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who served as vice chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology. The subcommittee oversees the government's Year 2000 problem and codifies procedures for federal purchase of services from the private sector. Sessions will depart the panel and serve exclusively on the powerful House Rules Committee.

To join the Rules Committee, Sessions will give up membership on his other committees, which include the Science Committee and the Banking and Financial Services Committee. "It is good news, bad news," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president for the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, who described Sessions as an IT champion in his committees. "On the other hand, having someone [on the Rules Committee] who is knowledgeable about IT is also very helpful."

The Rules Committee is considered one of the most powerful committees in the House. It dictates how bills will be handled on the House floor and determines the length of debate as well as which amendments will be considered and in what order.

A spokesman for Sessions said the move to the Rules Committee "allows him to have greater input in every piece of legislation that goes through the [Rules Committee]" and allows him to continue focusing on IT issues. "[Sessions'] view is that everything he's ever done, he'll have greater say from the vantage point of leadership," the spokesman said. "It's also a good position from which to make clear industry's point of view on legislation,"

Also ascending to a new role in the House Republican leadership is Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who recently won chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Davis represents a Northern Virginia district that is home to numerous IT companies that hold billions of dollars worth of federal IT contracts.

Some IT industry officials question whether Davis' new leadership role will detract him from his duties on the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, a panel chaired by Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.). But Trey Hardin, a spokesman for Davis, said the congressman will continue to work for the subcommittee as ardently as he has. "His position and leadership will enable him to accomplish more than he already has in all areas," Hardin said.

Although Davis will remain on Horn's subcommittee, a congressional source said the subcommittee's ranking minority member, Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), may leave. A spokesman for Kucinich said last week that the congressman, along with House Democratic leadership, had not determined whether he would remain on the subcommittee.

In the Senate, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) will ascend to the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, which writes the Defense Department's authorization bill. Warner said last week during a Washington, D.C., radio show that among the top budget issues he planned to focus on as chairman included information warfare.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) will leave the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia to join the Labor and Human Resources Committee. Brownback's subcommittee oversees the Year 2000 problem and IT acquisition.

A Hill source speculated that either Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) or Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), both newcomers to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, would become chairman of the subcommittee.

Newcomers to congressional committees with an IT focus may keep technology issues on the front burner. House newcomers Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have expressed an interest in joining Horn's subcommittee. Ryan had exposure to government management issues as an aide to Brownback.

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