Creation of e-gov office praised

Proposed congressional legislation to create an e-government office was widely praised by Bush administration officials and other government technology experts at a House hearing Sept. 18. However, whether the office's leader should be called a chief information officer and be confirmed by the Senate remains in dispute.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman's bill, S. 803, approved by the Senate this summer and sent to the House, would authorize an e-government office within the Office of Management and Budget. Housing it there is vital in identifying duplicative technology initiatives among agencies and thereby streamlining costs and improving services, said Mark Forman, OMB's assistant director for information technology and e-government.

"We know that we invest redundantly and we know there's ways to fix that," he said during a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, whose chairman is Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). "It's not rocket science; it's management."

But Forman said that requiring the head of the e-government office to be Senate-confirmed would waste time in a field that advances so rapidly. He also said whether the head of the e-government office is called a CIO really doesn't matter as long as the functions and responsibility reflect such authority.

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), who has introduced a House bill (H.R. 2458) to create a federal CIO position, asked whether the position is diminished in stature if it is not one requiring Senate comfirmation.

Roger Baker, former Commerce Department CIO and currently executive vice president at CACI International, said having the individual confirmed would be viewed as "carrying a substantial amount of weight."

But Baker agreed with Forman that having an e-government administrator within OMB would advance electronic services and reduce technology costs.

Linda Koontz, information management director at the General Accounting Office, said that GAO supported the creation of "a single position that would have the responsibility for the full range of information functions.... That could be [a] CIO, and I'm sure there are other models that can be followed as well."

Questions also were raised whether the federal CIO Council, an advisory board of several dozen agency CIOs, should be put into statute, as the bill purports to do.

When he was Commerce CIO, Baker said that the council was a "volunteer organization" and attendance at meetings was "one of the biggest problems." He said he didn't believe it was productive enough to codify it in statute.

However, Forman, who leads the CIO Council, said it has changed from a "hobnobbing" organization to one where attendance has improved and where its committees are intently focusing on IT workforce, useful practices and standards.

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