OMB balks at e-gov bill

OMB balks at e-gov bill

O’Keefe says proposal undercuts Bush plans


The deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget is making it clear who he thinks is in charge of fulfilling the vision of a paperless government: himself.

“There is a fundamental philosophical difference between the E-Government Act and the president’s vision,” OMB deputy director Sean O’Keefe says.
Testifying this month before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Sean O’Keefe identified several points of contention between the administration’s wishes and the E-Government Act of 2001, sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

“There is a fundamental philosophical difference between the E-Government Act and the president’s vision,” O’Keefe said. “We are not sure the bill advances, in any measurable way, the results we are expecting from the president’s management and performance plan.”

Same goals

Everyone’s goal is to integrate information technology, retorted a spokesman for Lieberman’s communications director, Dan Gerstein.

“I’m not sure what in the bill they would point to to suggest otherwise,” the spokesman said. The major differences, he said, are in the bill’s language calling for a federal chief information officer and in the amount allotted to an electronic-government fund.

The bill, S 803, calls for a governmentwide CIO with a staff at OMB. The CIO would report to OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., not to deputy director O’Keefe as the administration wants.

Bipartisan parting

“E-gov should not be a partisan issue,” the Lieberman spokesman said. “I think that if all sides come to the table, we’ll be able to achieve bipartisan legislation.”

O’Keefe, however, made it clear that the CIO would hold a post lower than his. “The president believes that the OMB deputy director for management should be the federal CIO because all management challenges are intertwined,” O’Keefe said.

A federal CIO would provide a governmentwide perspective, Sen. Joe Lieberman says.
But there is no deputy director for management yet. “The position of deputy director for management is required by statute,” Lieberman’s spokesman said. “So, by law, the deputy director for management position has to exist.”

A new wrinkle in the conflict, he added, is the appointment of Mark Forman as associate OMB director for IT [GCN, June 25, Page 1]. His duties also include overseeing the implementation of federal IT policy.

“Our CIO is at a higher level than Mark Forman would be, and Mark Forman does not have a statutory position,” Lieberman’s spokesman said. In some ways, he acknowledged, Forman’s duties parallel those outlined for the CIO in the bill.

“The CIO would not take away the agencies’ authority to pursue their own IT programs but rather would provide a much-needed, strong, governmentwide perspective,” Lieberman said at a July 11 committee hearing. “Among other things, the CIO would address privacy and computer security issues.”

Forman also has charge of the administration’s e-government fund. Although both sides agree there should be such a fund, they do not agree on how it should be allocated.

Forward or backward?

The Senate bill calls for $600 million to be meted to agencies over a three-year period; OMB has said only $100 million should be put in the fund to be spent over three years.

O’Keefe said OMB will have to decide whether it wants to support ambitious agencies with e-gov initiatives in place or those that still run 100 percent paper operations.

“The most aggressive application of current technology is at the IRS. Others slavishly hold onto legacy systems,” O’Keefe said. “Some agencies are still trying to wrestle their way into the 20th century.”

Other issues the committee debated were how agencies could make online information secure and how they could find enough IT experts to run a paperless government.

“I’m concerned about security, not just cyberattacks,” Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) said. “We’re talking about the whole economy here.”

O’Keefe said the government will continue to be vulnerable and individual agencies will have to make sure they have strong security policies.

“Part of that approach is to create an interagency effort through the National Security Council,” O’Keefe said.

To improve IT training, the Senate bill calls for the Office of Personnel Management to create a federal IT training center and provide online tutorials, mentoring and workplace training.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said he was concerned about the paperless government initiative moving too fast.

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) agreed: “The IRS has spent billions of dollars to modernize its systems unsuccessfully.”

Management problems have kept officials from “getting our arms around information technology problems,” Thompson added.

The bill also calls for building an online directory of federal Web sites, indexing their resources, instituting an online national library and requiring federal courts to post opinions online.

President Bush has said that if the government is to “adapt to a rapidly changing world, its primary objectives must be a government that is citizen-centered, not bureaucracy-centered; results-oriented, not process-oriented; and market-based and actively promoting, not stifling, innovation and competition.”

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