House plans e-gov cuts
Bill targets funds for some projects
Congressional support for e-government initiatives has been shaky from the start, but a recent move sharply undercuts a handful of the projects, even as they near completion.
House lawmakers this month approved a measure to cut $13.3 million from four Quicksilver projects when they passed the fiscal 2005 Interior appropriations bill. Subsequent appropriations bills could also target funding for e-government projects, a House appropriations committee spokesman said.
Specifically, a provision prohibits the departments of Interior and Energy, as well as the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service, from using discretionary money to fund the Disaster Management, E-Rulemaking, E-Training and Safecom initiatives.
“The Office of Management and Budget still has not made a convincing case why Congress should fund these projects and why they are not duplicative,” said John Scofield, appropriations committee spokesman. “The committee will not allow these projects to be funded by agency backdoor transfers.”
Scofield said it is likely that the other agency appropriations bills will include similar language.
The 25 Quicksilver projects, overseen by OMB, are cross-agency initiatives designed in part to eliminate duplication of online government services.
The White House objected to the provision in its Statement of Administration Policy about the Interior bill.
“Without full agency participation, the federal government’s ability to deliver information and services to the citizen will be greatly undermined.”
The Senate has yet to mark up its version of the Interior appropriations bill, so it is unclear whether a matching provision exists. After each house of Congress passes an appropriations bill, a conference committee of lawmakers hammers out differences between the measures.
“Sen. [Susan] Collins agrees with the president that e-government initiatives are important and ought to meet their goals, and the Senate is likely to revisit this issue through the appropriations process,” said Andrea Hofelich, spokeswoman for the Governmental Affairs Committee, which Collins (R-Maine) leads.
This latest swipe at e-government project funding follows a three-year history of lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with or misunderstanding of the administration’s initiative.
OMB asked for $100 million over three years for an e-government fund in 2002, but since then has received only $13 million, including $3 million in fiscal 2004.
The E-Government Act of 2002 had authorized $350 million for the fund between 2003 and 2007, but actual appropriations have lagged far behind.
This is the second consecutive year legislators used such a prohibition. The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could spend no money on cross-agency e-government initiatives this year. An appropriations committee staff person, who requested anonymity, said the four initiatives are among the most expensive e-government projects, and that funding was tight.
“Our allocation [for Interior] was $257 million below the president’s request, and we couldn’t afford these things,” the staff member said. “The ideas are great, but to tax all these agencies when they barely have the money for their core programs doesn’t work.”
The staff member said the committee pushed the provision forward because of the funding shortfall.
“The committee is strapped for cash, and there is barely enough money for the core programs, let alone newer ones,” Scofield said.
An official from one of the affected agencies, who requested anonymity, agreed that the initiatives are expensive, and noted they are not very popular with some agencies.
“This is a lot of money when you have to dig it out of other programs,” the official said. “Even [for] things you would like to participate in, there is not enough money to fund things that are not planned.”
The official was surprised to see E-Training as one of the initiatives facing a funding cut, because many agencies do not have an enterprise training system. But the official said Disaster Management and Safecom are expensive programs and that the Homeland Security Department, which is leading both programs, has already requested funds for them.
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