E-Government Act essential

In criticizing the E-Government Act of 2002, Tim Sprehe, in his June 10 Federal Computer Week column, missed the main point of the initiative.

Although Sprehe's dedication to the goal of improved public service through the use of technology remains unsurpassed, he seems to have fallen into the same trap as many others tracking this bill by seeing it primarily as management reform rather than an effort to help build a strong foundation for e-government.

The bill, S. 803, is not a "chief information officer" bill as was often first reported. The main focus is not on the structure of e-government management, but on the standardization of best practices to create a solid foundation for agencies that use new technologies, as well as an aid for better oversight by Congress.

As Sprehe points out, the bill would establish a position of e-government administrator and encourage him or her to work closely with the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Far from senseless, this setup is, in fact, already in place.

Already Mark Forman, the current e-government administrator, is working quite well with OIRA staff to push his well-developed e-government agenda. Though one problem remains. Only Senate-confirmed staff can be asked to testify. Those of us who care about government accountability would like to have this greater sense of oversight for such an important position.

Sprehe also criticizes the bill's authors for suggesting that FirstGov be used as a model for future work on a federal Web portal. In contrast, every major report on e-government suggests that a single portal is essential for making information more accessible to citizens.

The portal provision makes a common-sense point that FirstGov should provide lessons for the future. Review of a first generation technology should be regular practice when moving on to the next version.

However, we shouldn't get too caught up in the details of these worthwhile provisions because they are only a small part of a much larger bill.

In particular, the federal government would be pushed to build a common taxonomy for the use of terms across agencies that could be used for any kind of emerging standard in this area. This will make searching and categorizing government documents easier.

The bill would also push forward privacy practices for government agencies. Privacy impact assessments and machine-readable privacy statements have long been considered best practices for agencies, but unfortunately they have not become standard procedure.

Thankfully, the Senate ignored Sprehe's advice and unanimously passed the measure June 27. The House is expected to take up the issue in the near future. I hope that Sprehe and other critics take the time to re-examine the bill. We will need those with Sprehe's considerable knowledge to work with the new administrator in the likely event of this important bill's passage.

Schwartz is a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C.

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