Bush's '02 blueprint pushes e-gov fund

President Bush last week laid out his vision for how information technology can transform the federal government, including a proposal to establish a fund to support broad e-government initiatives, which has drawn mixed reviews.

In the budget released last week, the administration plans to provide $100 million over the next three years for inter-agency e-government initiatives. Also last week, a White House spokesman confirmed that Bush plans to name a federal chief information officer to lead that effort.

Bush's blueprint, which the administration will detail when it releases its full budget early next month, proposes an initial $10 million in 2002 for an e-government fund that will total $100 million by the end of fiscal 2004. The administration will detail the increase for the next two years in the April budget.

The fund will support interagency e-government projects, such as the FirstGov Web portal that provides links to programs across government, and initiatives to support e-government, such as public-key infrastructure (PKI) to enable secure electronic transactions.

"This is something that occurred in Texas [while Bush was governor], and that was very successful," said Jimmy Orr, a White House spokesman. "That same effort, that same commitment to the New Economy and the e-world, is now at the White House."

The Office of Management and Budget's deputy director of management, whom Bush has yet to name, likely will administer the fund. In the interim, OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. will develop spending plans, an OMB official said.

Although the initial $10 million is a fraction of the approximate $40 billion the federal government annually spends on IT, some agency officials see the investment as a good beginning. "It's a start in the right direction, and I think—if we can show that it makes good sense and we are able to do good things—something we can expand in the future," said Jim Flyzik, CIO at the Treasury Department and vice chairman of the federal CIO Council.

And although $100 million is not as much money as many federal IT managers would like, any central fund is important, especially "in this day and age of tight budgets," said Fernando Burbano, State Department CIO.

Roger Baker, CIO at the Commerce Department, suggested that the money should come from agencies' own IT budgets, taken from areas where agencies have not used money effectively.

Some interagency technology projects are now funded through a capricious "pass-the-hat" mechanism, in which the CIO Council asks agencies for donations. The council also receives money from rebates generated by agencies' use of government purchase cards, which this year totaled $17 million. Bush's e-gov fund would supplement that existing money.

Other federal IT experts say Bush's proposal falls short. "The concept is excellent, [but over time] we will need more investment," said Patricia McGinnis, director of the Council for Excellence in Government, a private-sector group that called for creation of a $3 billion e-government fund last month.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who is preparing to reintroduce legislation to create a new Office of Information Policy, also said the $10 million in fiscal 2002 is not adequate, an aide said.

Reform and Save?

Across the board, the Bush blueprint describes IT systems and the Internet as a way to increase government efficiency and to "redirect resources to their most productive end." The administration speculates that expanding e-government could increase agencies' productivity to a level where "the discretionary spending savings could exceed $100 billion over 10 years."

Bush believes other reforms could free up money, including boosting the use of performance-based contracting and electronic procurement and making full use of the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998, which requires agencies to list functions that are not inherently governmental and could potentially be outsourced to industry.

The e-gov fund will help agencies comply with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1999, a law that requires agencies to offer their services to citizens electronically whenever feasible by October 2003. This help will come from interagency infrastructure initiatives, such as the federal PKI on which agencies can build their own applications.

Though short on funding details, Bush's blueprint shows support for federal IT strategies just by mentioning them.

"The fact that the president talks about [e-procurement] is very important because it gives more importance to what we want to do. If it is a priority of the president, it's a priority of the secretary or administrator," said Terrence Tychan, deputy assistant secretary of grants and acquisition management at the Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the Procurement Executives Council. The Government Performance and Results Act, which requires agencies to relate the money spent on programs to performance, also plays a major role in Bush's plan. Last month, OMB's Daniels outlined to agency heads how they should incorporate their GPRA performance plans into budget submissions for fiscal 2002.

And during the budget release briefing, Daniels said the administration will cut programs and systems that have outlived their usefulness or failed to meet expectations and will apply those funds elsewhere.

The review is needed, but raises questions, said Patrice McDermott, information policy analyst with OMB Watch, a government watchdog group.

"It's making a lot of people in the public-interest community nervous because what are the standards? How are they going to measure 'good' and 'poor' performance?" she asked.

Agency Specifics

Although Bush's blueprint highlights some specific agency programs, many details on how the administration will support ongoing IT programs are missing.

Bush intends to provide the Internal Revenue Service with almost $400 million for its systems modernization, a multiyear project started under the Clinton administration to improve services for citizens, such as filing taxes via the Internet. At Treasury, the blueprint highlights the Customs Service's effort to modernize and calls for better management of the program without committing to a funding level. Customs is expected to award the $1 billion contract in the next three months.

The blueprint gives the FBI $3.5 billion and the U.S. Attorneys $1.3 billion, both of which include increases to fight cybercrime. The FBI's budget also includes funding for security programs at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. That effort is expected to include an interoperable wireless communications network.

The General Services Administration is slated to receive a 38 percent increase in funding—up from $8 million in fiscal 2001—for the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, the central organization for detecting and responding to cyberattacks at civilian agencies.

But the blueprint indicates that Bush may also cut some IT programs, especially in the science arena, said Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.), a senior member of the House Science Committee's technology subcommittee. The blueprint is "sketchy," but detailed enough to "suggest that our science programs will not receive adequate support from the Bush administration," she said.

Judi Hasson, Bryant Jordan, Greg Langlois, William Matthews and Paula Trimble contributed to this report.

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