E-government silliness

Why is Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) sponsoring legislation to give the Republican White House everything on its wish list in e-government?

I refer to S. 803, the E-Government Act of 2002, which Lieberman's Governmental Affairs Committee reported on March 20.

Consider what this bill would do. Instead of amending the law governing federal information policy, namely the Paperwork Reduction Act, S. 803 creates a new office of e-government in the Office of Management and Budget and a new e-government administrator.

What would the e-government administrator do? The answer is to enshrine in law the job description of Mark Forman, OMB's associate director of information technology and e-government. In other words, S. 803 takes the "I" out of OIRA, OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and puts it in a new e-government office tailored to current White House thinking.

But not really. Nothing in the bill removes responsibilities from the OIRA administrator. Instead, S. 803 just duplicates OIRA's information responsibilities by overlaying an e-government office.

How would the OIRA administrator and e-government administrator relate to each other? The e-government czar is to "work with" the OIRA administrator and yet have far-reaching powers that seem to conflict with OIRA's authorities. This makes no sense at all.

Is this a step forward in federal information policy? I think S. 803 takes a giant stride backward toward confusion.

Lieberman has held no oversight hearings to examine the Paperwork Reduction Act or ask why OIRA could not use its existing authorities to carry out e-government initiatives. Perhaps the committee noted that the law already contains a conflict between the authorities of the Government Printing Office and OMB in the federal printing arena — so adding more incoherence has statutory precedent.

Beyond the e-government czar, S. 803 contains other silliness. The bill would legally bless the FirstGov federal Web portal, the much-criticized endeavor that has yet to prove its worth in practice. It would require a governmentwide database of federal research and development, an idea that has been around since the 1960s and has never resulted in a useful information-finding tool. The bill puts OMB into the arena of setting standards for cataloging and indexing government information, a highly technical subject of which OMB has profound ignorance.

In proposing S. 803, the Governmental Affairs Committee seems just to be handing out favors to any interest group that walks in the door, especially the Republican administration. The bill exhibits a fundamental unwillingness to examine federal information policy in its full ramifications to craft a more coherent law congruent with today's technological environment.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at [email protected]


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