House passes compromise e-gov bill

Legislation to create a federal Office of Electronic Government and a $345 million fund to promote e-government projects passed in a last-minute vote before the House of Representatives adjourned Nov. 15.

The bill differs from a Senate version that passed last summer, but congressional staffers said they remain hopeful that the bill will be sent to the president before the Senate adjourns, possibly this week.

Aides in both houses said the bill's sponsors reached a satisfactory compromise between the two versions before the House vote and are optimistic the Senate now will adopt the House-passed bill.

The E-Government Act of 2002 essentially establishes in law the e-government staff that already exists within the Office of Management and Budget.

The new Office of Electronic Government would be a third-tier entity under the OMB director and deputy director. The president will name an administrator to lead the office. In the House version of the bill, the Senate would not confirm the administrator.

Today, the administration's e-government efforts are headed by an associate OMB director for information technology and e-government, Mark Forman, who reports to the OMB director and deputy director.

Under the bill, the administrator would have a $345 million fund allotted during five years to spend on projects that promote e-government. Forman received $5 million for that purpose in 2002, but has no funding so far this fiscal year because Congress has failed to pass most 2003 appropriations bills. Besides formally establishing the e-government office, the [e-government bill] attempts to set some goals and standards for government presence on the Internet, a House staffer said.

The intent is to set minimum standards for information the public can count on finding on agency Web sites, a House staffer said. At present, government Web sites "are inconsistent." Some sites are great, very useful and informative, but others are not, he said.

The House bill includes a provision authorizing the use of share-in-savings contracts for IT projects on a limited basis. Such contracts require vendors to foot the upfront costs of new technology projects, then recoup those expenses through savings the projects achieve.

However, the bill does not include a provision some in the private sector had sought. There are no "protections against government incursions into e-commerce," said Jason Mahler, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

"There are no limitations. This may embolden agencies" to try to offer online services that compete with the private sector, he said.

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Bill Highlights

The e-government bill incorporates legislation by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) creating a "digital tech corps" of government technology workers who swap jobs with private sector counterparts. The idea is to bring some industry technology expertise into government, if only temporarily, and to acquaint private-sector technology managers with the workings of federal agencies.

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