GSA e-gov office faces budget cuts

Office of Management and Budget officials are proposing budget cuts for the next fiscal year in the electronic government and technology office of the General Services Administration.

Sources familiar with the fiscal 2006 budget preparation process say OMB officials intend to curtail spending at GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy (OGP) by 30 percent to 50 percent. OMB officials also would like to transfer some of the policy office's responsibilities elsewhere within GSA.

The cuts are "focused on scoping OGP back to its original intent," a government official said. Because the fiscal 2006 budget will not be finalized until President Bush submits his spending plans to Congress in late January, knowledgeable sources who agreed to let Federal Computer Week publish this information would only speak on condition of anonymity. Two of the main players were not available for comment — Marty Wagner, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, and Karen Evans, OMB administrator for e-government and information technology.

GSA officials have filed an appeal to restore their funding, and a final OMB decision is expected soon.

Within OMB, some officials with budget influence have said the GSA e-government policy shop duplicates work being conducted by OMB's e-government and IT office. Higher than anticipated costs in Iraq make GSA's congressionally appropriated funds vulnerable, according to some sources.

Federal budget officials also believe GSA has involved itself in e-government operations to a greater degree than it should, according to a government official. The office has a history of piloting e-government projects before agencies assume the large-scale operational duties.

Various current and former government officials agreed on the basic details of the budget cut, but differed on the interpretation.

One former government executive said the cuts would have serious ramifications for e-government efforts. Because OMB would not acquire additional personnel to make up for cuts at GSA, "the signal very well may be that it is not a priority of the administration," the former executive said.

The workload of OMB officials would increase should the cuts be finalized, the government official acknowledged. "It'll just get a lot of people to focus on core mission instead of having some speaking engagements," the official said.

"I don't know what [OMB's] motivation is," said Paul Brubaker, executive vice president of SI International and former Defense Department deputy chief information officer. "That's the multimillion-dollar question here." Brubaker helped draft the Clinger-Cohen Act as a member of Sen. William Cohen's staff in the 1990s.

But the cuts would not undermine e-government initiatives this far into their development, the government official said. "Those initiatives that are fully operational have self-sustaining business models," the official said. Two years ago, that would not have been the case and it could have been a problem. As it is, the reduced GSA budget would only create "a temporary, short-term shift in things," the official added.

Another former government official said OMB's actions could be "a serious inhibitor." Since passage of the Clinger-

Cohen Act in 1996, the role of GSA's governmentwide policy office has been to support OMB in the analysis and policy work required by the act, the former official said.

"OMB is limited in the number of staff it can have," that official said, so the work must be done elsewhere. The policy office "is operational on a test basis, as opposed to operational on a mass scale." Under the act's terms, "that's what GSA is supposed to do," the second former official said.

The proposed reduction is "a sign that either OMB is not happy with what they've been getting, or that the missions have changed," the source added. "It'd be very interesting to understand where that area of overlap is, as opposed to support, and what measures of effectiveness have been used to determine that [GSA] has excess capacity."

Good e-government policy requires the personnel strength and test operations GSA has been supplying, according to a third former government official. "Policy is not just something you write and issue. It is something that is piloted and developed and implemented in stages over time."

"You can't just dismiss the value of the activity because you don't want it done in another organization," the third former official added.

OMB is "the pinnacle of oversight in the whole chain of information technology in the federal government. ... They've got the right to turn on and turn off virtually anything they want," Brubaker said.

OMB pushes for consolidation

The Office of Governmentwide Policy is not the only organization within the General Services Administration undergoing intense scrutiny by Office of Management and Budget officials.

As part of the fiscal 2006 budget, OMB officials propose consolidating the Federal Supply Service and the Federal Technology Service, Federal Computer Week has learned.

"The sense is that both FSS and FTS are still maintaining sales forces," despite a GSA reorganization in 2002 that was supposed to eliminate overlap, said a former government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Some speculate that OMB's move has come about as a result of the stated intent of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, to examine GSA's structure and consider changes.

OMB's actions are "a direct reflection of the same things [Davis] has been talking about," the source said.

— David Perera

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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