E-Gov Act on its way to president

Acting with almost Internet speed, the Senate passed the Electronic Government Act late on Nov. 15, just hours after the House approved the measure. All that's needed now is the president's signature and $45 million will be available for e-government projects during the current fiscal year.

The act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is intended to push federal agencies to make wider use of the Internet to provide information and services to citizens.

For instance, the legislation would require regulatory agencies to conduct rule-making on the Internet by publishing proposed rules on their Web sites and accepting comments from the public via e-mail.

Agencies also would be required to post on their Web sites all of the information they now are required to publish in the Federal Register. Federal courts also would have to provide more information to citizens over the Internet. The bill requires them to post rulings on cases and other information on their Web sites.

A key aim of the bill is to improve the federal Internet portal, FirstGov, to make it easier for users to find the information and services they are seeking. As one step, the bill calls for creating a directory of all government Web sites. Rather than simply a list, the directory is to be built on a detailed taxonomy that enables users to search for information based on subject rather than on the agency that possess it, a Senate staffer explained.

The E-Government Act of 2002 also would strengthen protections on privacy to prevent inappropriate disclosure of personally identifiable information that is maintained by federal agencies.

Lieberman said the intent of his legislation is to get the federal government to take "full advantage of the Internet and other information technologies to maximize efficiency and provide the public with seamless, secure online information and services."

The bill also calls for better recruiting and training for federal information technology professionals.

These and other e-government efforts would be managed by a new Office of Electronic Government that is to be established within the Office of Management and Budget. The new office would be headed by an administrator who would be appointed by the president and would report to the OMB director and deputy director.

That, essentially, is the setup that exists today with Mark Forman, who is associate OMB director for information technology and e-government.

Including the $45 million for 2003, the administrator would have a $345 million over five years to spend on projects that promote electronic government. Forman received $5 million for that purpose in 2002.

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