E-gov legislation stalls

Sweeping e-government legislation that promised to bring a degree of coordination and discipline to the way agencies make use of information technology has virtually stalled in the Senate. Its supporters have begun looking toward next year as a more realistic time for passage.

In part, the bill, introduced last May by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), is a victim of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the E-Government Act of 2001 is also stymied by determined opposition from the Bush administration.

It is already too late to include funding that the bill calls for in the 2002 budget, according to Kevin Landy, counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and a staffer for Lieberman.

And negotiations begun in August between Lieberman's staff and administration officials to try to iron out points of disagreement in the bill have not yet moved beyond low-level discussions, Landy said Sept. 26.

Now, it appears that e-government has been pushed aside by more pressing national security issues. "It is not a top priority now," Landy told a gathering of IT business leaders. "Everyone now is very focused on responding to the tragedy.

"I don't know at what point Congress can return to other issues," Landy said.

Even before all attention was focused on dealing with terrorism, the E-Government Act faced difficulty.

Lieberman wants to appoint a federal chief information officer and give the CIO significant authority over federal IT planning and performance, and substantial say over how federal agencies spend more than $40 billion a year on technology.

President Bush has opposed creating the position of federal CIO and instead has appointed a lower-level associate director for information technology and e-government.

Lieberman wants to spend $200 million a year to encourage the development of interagency e-government projects. The administration proposes to spend $20 million for that purpose in 2002 and another $80 million during 2003 and 2004.

Landy said talks with administration officials have yielded "some progress in a number of areas," but he said there are still major points of disagreement. Administration officials have said they have no plans to compromise on the federal CIO or the IT fund.

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