Senate resurrects e-gov bill

E-Government Act of 2001

A Senate bill boosting the visibil.ity and funding of key e-government initiatives passed another milestone last week when the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave its unanimous approval.

The E-Government Act of 2002 is the result of months of negotiations among the panel's chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.); Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), the committee's ranking member; and the Bush administration, which had opposed one of the bill's major components — the appointment of a federal chief information officer.

Instead, the bill calls for an administrator within a new office of Electronic Government at the Office of Management and Budget. The administrator, who would be confirmed by the Senate, would oversee a fund that provides $386 million during four years for e-government initiatives and related projects.

"The government's increasing reliance on the Internet to further its many missions is inevitable and has already been evolving for several years," Lieberman said. "Congress has a role in helping to ensure that e-government initiatives are pursued effectively and efficiently for the benefit of all Americans."

Congress appropriated $5 million for e-government initiatives in the fiscal 2002 budget, and the administration already is seeking $45 million in the fiscal 2003 budget, for an e-gov fund, primarily to finance 24 initiatives overseen by Mark Forman, OMB's associate director of information technology and e-government.

The newly revised legislation, which replaces an e-gov bill that Lieberman sponsored last year, strengthens public access and includes important new privacy protections. It also reauthorizes the Government Information Security Reform Act and makes it permanent.

Lieberman said privacy and security are top priorities in the legislation, which requires agencies to complete detailed assessments of privacy considerations when buying new information systems.

"We're pleased there are components in the bill to strengthen public access to government," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, an independent think tank. "The bill's intent is to lay down the framework for managing information," which should have been done years ago, he said.

Among its provisions, the bill requires each federal court to establish a Web site to post written opinions issued by the court in a free text-searchable format. It also requires a public directory of federal government Web sites and the development of standards for those sites.

"In this bill, we focus on providing the public with seamless, secure online services, organized according to the citizen's needs," Lieberman said.

"I like the bill," said Paul Brubaker, chief executive officer of Aquilent and a former congressional staffer. "It actually earmarks money. It's not adequate money, but at least it's something."

But, Brubaker said the bill could face an uphill road when it gets to the House because of Lieberman's "real or perceived political aspirations."

Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America, said ITAA supported the earlier version of the legislation and would be studying the new one in the next two weeks.


Highlights of the E-Government Act of 2002:

* Provides $386 million, including $345 million for e-government projects over four years.

* Creates an Office of Electronic Government within the Office of Management and Budget.

* Appoints a Senate-confirmed administrator in charge of the office.

* Provides $8 million for a federal bridge certification authority for digital signatures.

* Provides $7 million for an information technology training center.

* Asks for tighter privacy and security provisions.


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