Bush won't have privacy czar

President Bush does not plan to name a privacy adviser, according to an official at the Office of Management and Budget where President Clinton's "chief counselor for privacy" resided.

"The position has expired," said Lauren Steinfeld, a policy analyst in OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The counselor's responsibilities will be transferred to OIRA, she told an auditorium full of federal Internet workers gathered for a seminar on privacy.

In March 1999, President Clinton named Ohio law professor Peter Swire as his chief adviser on privacy matters, particularly those involving the Internet and information held by the federal government.

Over the ensuing 22 months, Swire advised the president on issues including medical records privacy, Internet privacy, electronic commerce policy, encryption, financial services privacy and government computer security.

One of Swire's final efforts involved working on broad new rules to protect medical records from improper disclosure over the Internet. The rules were published Dec. 28 and were supposed to take effect Feb. 26, but have been put on hold by the Bush administration at least until mid-April. Insurance companies and other health industry organizations opposed the rules.

OMB officials insist that the Bush administration "is very committed to making the government a model citizen when it comes to privacy." But the new administration plans to do so without guidance from a privacy czar.

The decision not to name a replacement for Swire "is a real loss," said Patrice McDermott, a policy analyst for OMB Watch, a public advocacy organization.

The new administration will face many issues that involve privacy, including how to protect privacy as agencies shift from paper-based to electronic systems as required by 2003 by the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

Concern about the loss of privacy has become a high-visibility issue with the public and with Congress, McDermott said. The administration "needs someone who has a specific focus on privacy and is able to carry some weight and have some visibility across government," she said.

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