OMB: Pass the hat for e-gov funds

OMB: Pass the hat for e-gov funds

Congressional stinginess and the evaporation of federal surpluses have punctured hopes for windfall funding of e-government projects.

To keep alive its grand e-government initiative, the Office of Management and Budget will use its power to reprogram existing money, potentially leaving no agency completely satisfied.

OMB had asked for $20 million in new funds to augment 23 ongoing projects a task force had identified as worthy of governmentwide deployment [GCN, Nov. 19, Page 1]. But for fiscal 2002, it expects to receive only $5 million.

OMB is asking managers of the 23 chosen projects to share the discretionary funds they are now using, instead of competing for a hoped-for large e-government purse. Short of that, budget officials vow to resort to their reprogramming authority under the Clinger-Cohen Act.

Mark Forman, OMB associate director for IT and e-government and head of the interagency task force that chose the initiatives from hundreds proposed, said the funding can be found within the agencies. He believes cutting redundant systems and operations will turn up enough money from agencies’ discretionary budgets to keep all 23 projects alive.

“Each [project] is associated with multiple redundant planned IT expenditures, and we intend to fund the e-gov initiatives by better leveraging the money that would have been spent on redundant efforts,” Forman said.

At least one agency official agreed with Forman’s assessment.

“We are spending approximately $45 billion in IT hardware and software,” said John Sindelar, deputy associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration.

“Mark has contended all along that anything we did would be funded out of those expenditures because there is a lot of redundancy in investments,” Sindelar said.

OMB decided to fund as many of the projects as it could with the $5 million and existing funds. Its funding criterion is the strength of the business cases it asked the projects’ sponsors to present last month. Agencies used guidelines in OMB Circular A-11 to write the business cases.

Not a cut, a blueprint

Today, a second, final round of business cases is due for each project. The project sponsors had expected that this round would result in a further culling of the 23 projects, but that’s not the case, Forman said.

“Dec. 10 is not a final cut,” Forman said. The plans will instead become a blueprint showing OMB who needs money and from which agencies OMB can get it, he said.

But a member of the Procurement Executives Council called OMB’s funding plan “cloudy” from the start.

“We are not getting appropriations from the Hill, so how do we accumulate funds from those agencies that already have projects under way?” asked the official, who didn’t want his name used.

None of the projects is new, he said, and funding is the biggest issue for most of them.

As an example, he cited the Integrated Acquisition Initiative conducted by the General Services Administration, a project the PEC is watching closely (see Page 9).

“Nobody wants to fund infrastructure,” the official said, because “it is hard to sell on the Hill. It has to come out of the pot, which usually means taking away from program folks.”

The hand is out

Terrence Tychan, deputy assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department for grants and acquisition management, was also glum about the funding shortfall. He said he thought the days of passing the hat were over when HHS’ e-grants portal got the nod from OMB. On Nov. 29, he learned the hat is coming back around.

“I don’t have the money,” he said, and added that he hopes OMB’s plan to leverage interagency resources means the project will finally get enough to complete what was started in 1998.

Tychan said he needs about $4 million next year but has received only several hundred thousand dollars—from the Chief Financial Officers Council discretionary fund—since the project’s inception.

Other agency officials were more upbeat.

“There is a sense of competitiveness among projects, but we are not competing against each other,” said James Flyzik, vice chairman of the CIO Council and Treasury Department CIO.

“Government program managers and IT managers will have to take off individual agency hats and put on governmentwide hats to see projects from the viewpoint of the citizen,” Flyzik said.

OMB is working to coordinate efforts for the good of the government, not just individual agencies, said Howard Landon, director of special projects for the Energy Department CIO and a member of the Quicksilver team that originally selected the 23 initiatives.

“That is where the payoff will come, both in terms of dollars and public benefit,” Landon said.
Craig Luigart, CIO of the Education Department, said he had expected from the beginning to continue with his department’s initiative, whether or not it received OMB funding.

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