OMB promises funds for 24 e-gov initiatives

OMB promises funds for 24 e-gov initiatives

Forman suggests agencies share discretionary budgets until OMB can get more money from Congress

The Office of Management and Budget has vowed to protect e-government projects—especially its spotlighted 24 initiatives—from congressional cuts.

“The president made a pledge to fund these projects in the amount of $100 million over three years, and we have not wavered,” said Mark Forman, OMB’s associate director for IT and e-government.

Shortly before the budget came out this month, Forman said OMB would lobby for an additional $45 million for its 24 projects. He said the money should be taken out of the $100 million e-gov fund the president requested last year.

Apart from that drawdown, e-gov initiatives will have to be funded through agencies’ regular IT allocations.

The 24 initiatives are not associated with any budget line item because they are still at the conceptual stage, said Laura Callahan, deputy CIO at the Labor Department. She said Labor requested $556 million for IT in fiscal 2003, but the president’s budget earmarked $497.1 million, a significant portion of which will go toward e-gov.

“I think what we’re seeing from an IT perspective is fair under the circumstances,” Callahan said. “I can’t really say it’s enough. We just have to be very frugal.”

The administration also gave the General Services Administration $551 million in discretionary funds from which the agency will build the Office of Citizen Services, the new home of the FirstGov portal.

The plan is to tie all 24 initiatives into FirstGov. So, some work on the initiatives could be funded through that money, as well.

If all else fails, Forman has suggested that agencies share their discretionary budgets with one another while OMB works to squeeze more money out of Congress. But discretionary budgets will be scrutinized closely, said David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

“We’re keeping score, and if you fail to make the grade, we won’t hesitate to hit you in your pocketbook come next year,” he said. Davis believes “that’s an appropriate use of the budgetary stick,” Marin said.

Green means go

OMB has rated agencies’ e-gov efforts, assigning them color grades—green, yellow or red—for their performance. E-gov is one of five priorities listed on the president’s management agenda; the others are human capital, competitive sourcing, financial management, and budget and performance integration.

The top grade is green and means a project meets the White House’s criteria for success and is considered at least 90 percent effective. No agency has received this rank yet.

Yellow means a project meets some of the criteria. Labor, for instance, received a yellow grade, meaning that its e-gov efforts are between 70 percent and 90 percent effective.

Red, the grade OMB assigned most agencies, indicates flaws and projects that are not adequately serving users’ needs.

The scores do not relate directly to the president’s proposed fiscal 2003 funding for IT. Although the Defense Department received a red score, OMB has increased IT budgets for all Defense agencies.

The Treasury Department also scored red throughout its evaluation, but the budget proposal would boost its IT allocation.

Meanwhile, SSA earned a yellow score, and the budget proposal calls for a decrease in its IT funds next year.

Forman warned that OMB would not protect inefficient and duplicate projects from congressional cuts. “E-payroll is an obvious example. If we buy new software for every e-payroll system in the government, we would end up spending $1 billion,” he said.

But John Spotila, president and chief operating officer of GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., and an OMB official during the Clinton administration, said Congress is skeptical about cross-agency initiatives. He said it prefers to fund single projects within agencies.

“You have to think of this like a large corporate merger,” Callahan said of the government’s e-gov agenda.

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