OMB hands out e-gov funding

OMB e-gov strategy

The Office of Management and Budget has selected five e-government initiatives for funding, shunning proposals officials say duplicate existing services or re-create services that are commercially available.

The projects selected for funding concentrate on expanding the foundation of e-government. Three of the projects are among the 24 initiatives the Bush administration proposed last year, and two of the projects are broader in scope.

The five will receive $4.15 million from a $5 million fund set aside for innovative e-government projects. The remaining $850,000 is expected to be awarded to other projects by June, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for information technology and e-government.

The largest project is a General Services Administration initiative called e-Authentication, which will receive $2 million. The project seeks to develop ways for citizens and businesses to communicate securely with government agencies. It includes developing electronic signatures and access controls so that people can send information and documents to government agencies with the assurance that the content remains private and unaltered.

A "benefits wizard" will receive $900,000. The money will be used to develop a tool that can search across government agencies — federal, state and local — to determine which benefits users may be eligible for based on questionnaires they fill out (see box for a complete list of projects).

Forman said between five and 10 of the proposed projects were rejected because of "consolidation issues." To one extent or another, they were deemed to be overlapping.

Another group of projects was passed over because the services they would provide are available commercially. Online recruiting, for example, does not need to be a government service because the private sector already provides it, he said.

E-Vital, which would expand the exchange of birth and death information among agencies, is one of the programs that did not receive funding.

"Funding could have accelerated the project, but we realize OMB resources were limited this year," said Brian Cronin, director of the Division of Payment Policy at the Social Security Administration. SSA is the managing partner for the program. The e-Vital initiative will move forward, he said, "and it will be automated, but how long it takes depends on funding."

Delton Atkinson, executive director of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, which represents state vital statistics offices, said, "States are going to need help in terms of being able to do it. We'll have to see how much money we can get out of the other federal agencies to do it."

But even without a piece of the $5 million e-government fund, projects such as the Interior Department's Geospatial Information One Stop and Recreation One Stop will go on, said Scott Cameron, Interior's deputy assistant secretary for performance and management.

Being excluded from the fund "is not as dire as it seems," he said. About $4.8 million for the geospatial project has been included in the 2002 budgets of various agencies, and fiscal 2003 budget requests include about $8.5 million for the project, Cameron said.

"Not that we would have minded having a piece [of the e-government fund], too," he added.

Even a small amount of money from the fund "could have had a big impact" on the project, said Milo Robinson, a program official. "We viewed it as a way to accelerate" the program.

Judi Hasson contributed to this story.

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E-gov winners

Five projects will receive money from the Bush administration's $5 million e-government fund. They are:

E-Authentication — $2 million. Will develop ways for citizens and businesses to communicate securely with government agencies.

Benefits wizard — $900,000. The tool will determine which federal, state or local benefits users may be eligible for based on questionnaires they complete.

One-Stop Business Compliance Information — $750,000. Will provide information about business laws and regulations imposed by various government agencies.

Content management tool for the FirstGov Web portal — $400,000.

Training — $100,000. Educating government employees in e-government management. The remaining $850,000 is expected to be awarded to other projects by June.

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