E-gov bill gains bipartisan backing

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) picked up three Republicans and eight Democrats as co-sponsors of the sweeping e-government bill he introduced Tuesday, even as the Bush administration reiterated its skepticism.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Communications Subcommittee, appeared in a Capitol hearing room with Lieberman to introduce the E-Government Act of 2001.

Burns said the legislation would use the Internet to "make government more efficient, accessible and accountable to the citizens it represents." He added that the government "has been a sometimes unwilling participant in the technological revolution of recent years."

Other Republican co-sponsors were Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and freshman Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), a committee member.

Lieberman also picked up endorsements from the American Library Association and such technology giants as IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp.

ALA president Nancy Kranich praised the e-government bill for recognizing the public's information needs. "For many years, libraries have advocated for equal, ready and equitable access to government information," she said.

Lieberman said his legislation is intended to create a more accountable, more accessible and more cost-effective federal government by making more information and services available online from anywhere, at any time.

"In the end, we have no choice," he said. People will expect the same kind of service from government that they have come to expect from businesses. And it is already beginning to happen in an unorganized way: It is possible in some locations to renew a driver's license, bid on a contract or apply for student loan online, he said. Lieberman hopes for a more uniform and coordinated approach at the federal level.

Among many initiatives, he proposes to:

Create the post of a federal chief information officer within the Office of Management and Budget. Create a $200 million-a-year fund to finance interagency e-government projects. Vastly improve the government Internet portal, FirstGov. Create a national online library. Require federal courts to post opinions online. The Bush administration is hesitant about Lieberman's plan for a federal CIO and has proposed a $20 million e-government fund for 2002.

"We don't want to convince folks [that e-government] is going to be the answer to everyone's prayer," Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in an interview Tuesday, "and unfortunately there are some running around who are really of that mind—some members of Congress who seem to think that this is going to be the end-all and be-all."

Lieberman said his bill is "a work in progress" that leaves room to negotiate with the Bush administration.

Democrats signing on as co-sponsors of Lieberman's bill include Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Carl Levin of Michigan.

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