Passing the hat is no help to e-gov
- By Florence Olsen
- May 31, 2004
Funding e-government initiatives by passing the hat is inadequate, two senior Capitol Hill staff members told agency and industry officials last week during a forum on citizen services and e-government.
Putting e-government on a sound financial footing, however, will require much better communication and coordination with Congress than lawmakers have seen so far, said Bob Dix and Kevin Landy. Dix is chief of staff for Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee. Landy is an aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), co-author of the E-Government Act of 2002 and ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
The staff members and several federal and industry officials who attended the American Council for Technology's Management of Change conference in Philadelphia said more needs to be done to persuade congressional appropriators that cross-agency programs are better for paying for and delivering government services than the current approach. In that approach, individual committees oversee one element of e-government without considering broader initiatives.
"The way we deliver services within the bureaucratic framework is a model that no longer works from the standpoint of efficiency, productivity and allocation of resources," Dix said.
Through a succession of budget cycles, the problem of paying for e-government has become apparent. When the Bush administration initiated the e-government programs three years ago, Office of Management and Budget officials asked Congress for a substantial central fund to pay for the programs because they would cut across traditional agency and committee jurisdictions.
However, two years later, instead of appropriating the Bush administration's requested $95 million to pay for governmentwide services, Congress had designated $8 million. And the funding shortfall has continued.
"In the past year, 98 percent of the funding necessary to do these projects was contributed by the agencies," Dix said. In other words, money was raised by passing the hat.
In some cases, the hat was passed to industry. When the General Services Administration began work on FirstGov, a Web portal for information about the federal government, Congress did not appropriate GSA its requested $100 million. Instead, the agency received help from the computer industry, said Don Arnold, director of business development at PeopleSoft Inc. "They did it by asking for freebies."
For e-government to succeed, Arnold said, Congress needs a more holistic view of what government is about. "It's not about [the Agriculture Department]. It is about services to citizens, it is about food stamps. It's not about the Commerce Department. It is about trade."
Some current and former government officials point to OMB as the reason e-government is on a precarious financial footing. "OMB has not been successful in selling e-government to the appropriators," said Bruce McConnell, former chief of the agency's information policy and technology branch and now president of McConnell International LLC, a sales and marketing consulting firm.
OMB officials could not be reached for comment before press time. However, Dix said OMB officials have increased efforts to influence congressional funding for e-government by bringing together the authorizing and appropriating sides.
The funding problem plaguing e-government initiatives is fundamentally a structural one, and solving it may require more than better congressional communication and coordination, Landy said. E-government "requires huge changes in how government operates."
He said appropriations subcommittees are concerned with protecting existing agencies and programs for which they are responsible. "E-government is the new kid on the block," Landy said. "No one really has ownership of it." And short of reorganizing the committees, he said, the situation is unlikely to change soon.
But some current and former government officials think better communication
with Congress can help e-government
programs succeed. "Even though Congress may not be organized in a way to do
this efficiently, it would certainly be a
step in the right direction toi have those kinds of conversations and dialogue," said David McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government.