GSA grilled on e-gov role

GSA fiscal 2003 budget overview

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At the first hearing on the General Services Administration's fiscal 2003 budget request, House appropriators continued to probe the agency's central role in the Bush administration's e-government agenda.

Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Treasury, Postal and General Government Subcommittee, questioned GSA's $45 million request for the administration's e-government fund. He also questioned the agency's plans to create an Office of Citizen Services to consolidate its e-government functions, including the FirstGov Web portal.

"It's interesting that the new GSA focus on 'citizen services' involved consolidation, while 'electronic government' is fully dispersed," he said in his opening statement March 13.

These comments follow concerns Istook voiced during the fiscal 2002 budget cycle, when the administration first proposed the e-government fund and requested $20 million — money that would be held by GSA and overseen by the Office of Management and Budget. Istook and other members of the House and Senate appropriations committees questioned the placement of the fund at GSA, and Congress appropriated just $5 million for the fund in fiscal 2002, citing budget constraints.

GSA Administrator Stephen Perry called e-government one of the three "major programmatic themes" of the agency's fiscal 2003 budget. "E-government, we think, is key to this vision of having a citizen-centric government," he said.

In his written testimony Perry pointed out that the $45 million request for fiscal 2003 is backed up by 24 specific e-government initiatives. But Istook said at the hearing that he plans to follow up on his concerns in written questions for GSA.

Members of the subcommittee did praise GSA's security efforts. The agency oversees the most federal facilities through the Public Buildings Service and oversees many aspects of federal information security through programs within its Federal Technology Service.

"Computer security, security of people, security of property are key components of homeland security," Istook said.

Part of the increase in the GSA budget request stems from security programs, including $900,000 for the governmentwide Cyber Warning Information Network and $600,000 to establish and maintain an Alternate Facility Database for governmentwide continuity of operations.

But Istook also expressed concern about potential duplication of effort in the information security arena. GSA's programs, such as the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, are part of larger governmentwide information security efforts, and no single person or office seems to be in charge to ensure there is no unnecessary redundancy, he said.

Sandra Bates, commissioner of FTS, noted the governmentwide oversight role held by Richard Clarke, the president's cyberspace security adviser. However, Clarke is not accountable to Congress, and Istook said he would continue to press this issue in written questions as well.

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