Playing politics

Summertime in Washington, D.C., means lawmakers are rushing to pass appropriations bills so they can get back to their districts to relax with family and schmooze with voters.

Even in the last-minute flurry of activity, there's time to play politics. To send the White House a message, the House approved an appropriations subcommittee move to slash the fiscal 2002 e-government fund from $20 million to $5 million.

The fund is designed to encourage interagency information technology proj.ects, which can suffer as the budget process pits agencies against one another. President Bush first proposed a $10 million fund; the CIO Council estimated the fund should be $37 million for fiscal 2002; and Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), and Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) have called for $200 million a year.

The House Appropriations Committee's Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Subcommittee report professes support for an e-government fund, so long as the Office of Management and Budget coordinates on its use with the House Government Reform Committee. But lawmakers perceived an end run by the administration, and that was enough to cut the fund by 75 percent.

Maybe the administration could benefit from a crash course on how to work with Congress. But lawmakers shouldn't hold e-government hostage in a political turf battle. There's just too much at stake.

Consider the federal Web portal, FirstGov. Started less than a year ago with a search engine donated by Ink.tomi Corp. chief scientist Eric Brewer, FirstGov has expanded to include 31 million federal and 16 million state government Web pages. This year, FirstGov gets $3 million to augment the $8 million that 40 agencies contribute to the site. The Bush administration considers FirstGov and a federal public-key infrastructure to be prime candidates for e-government funds.

Now the administration has begun lobbying Congress to put back the funds. OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. has called on the House and Senate to restore in conference some, if not all, of the $20 million. If e-government is to get a jump-start, Congress would do well to heed Daniels' plea.

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