Congress defuses attacks on e-gov, competitive sourcing

Congress late last week gave two of the administration’s top management priorities—competitive sourcing and e-government—a shot in the arm.

Lawmakers removed all four provisions in three separate bills that would limit or prohibit agencies from competing federal jobs with the private sector.

They also removed a provision that would have prohibited the Interior and Energy departments and the Forest Service from spending $13.3 million on four e-government projects. Additionally, lawmakers removed a provision that would have eliminated the office of the chief architect, clearing the way for the Office of Management and Budget to hire a new one.

The provisions were taken out of a nine-agency omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed late Saturday night. President Bush has not yet signed the bill, but he is expected to do so later this week--after a controversial provision is removed. Language concerning IRS oversight appeared that wording that staff inserted during debate over the bill gave the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees the power to review taxpayer returns. The Washington Post reported that Congress is expected to repeal it Wednesday.

Congress also passed a continuing resolution keeping government spending at 2004 levels through Dec. 3.

Under the omnibus bill, agencies will receive a 1 percent increase in spending over 2004, with discretionary spending up to $388 billion.

“The House and Senate leadership and the White House wanted to get it done so Congress can start off with a fresh slate,” said House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield. “There was no doubt that it was not going to get done.”

The omnibus appropriations bill provides $3 million for the e-government fund, $62 million for the General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, and $35.9 million for the National Archives and Records Administration’s Electronic Records Archive project. Congress met or exceeded the president’s request for the Office of Governmentwide Policy and for NARA’s project, but not for the e-government fund. The administration, once again, asked for $5 million for the e-government fund.

Scofield said the White House did not fight for the e-government funding nor did they provide a good enough explanation of how it would be used.

Lawmakers also added a provision requiring every agency to have a chief privacy officer. This person will create policy for privacy and data protection assuring that technology does not “erode privacy protections relating to the use, collection and disclosure of information.”

The privacy officer will conduct privacy impact assessments; prepare an annual report to Congress on anything that affects privacy, including complaints of violations of the Privacy Act; and help design a training program for agency employees.

Agencies also have 12 months from the enactment of the law to establish and implement a comprehensive privacy and data protection strategy, which will be sent to the department’s inspector general to serve as a benchmark.

Finally, agencies will have to have an independent evaluation of their privacy procedures every two years to determine compliance with the laws and the effectiveness of the program.

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