Another View: Is the administration’s e-gov game all talk?

OMB’s proposed cuts would sideline a key player, the Office of Governmentwide Policy

Nearly everyone in the Office of Governmentwide Policy is walking on eggshells lately. After the public airing of the Office of Management and Budget’s recommendation to cut between 30 percent and 50 percent of the General Services Administration office’s $62.1 million budget for fiscal 2006, many in the office are wondering if and where the ax will fall.

No one at GSA or OMB would talk on the record about the proposed cuts—which do not become an official proposal until President Bush releases his budget request Feb. 7—but feds I’ve talked to say the morale among Governmentwide Policy staff members is pretty low.

At a recent meeting, GSA officials told the staff that the budget could lead to half of the team’s employees losing their jobs. GSA officials did not discuss who might be laid off or offered early buy-outs, but there’s a sense that cuts are inevitable.

This is yet another example of the administration talking the e-government talk, but not walking the walk. Like the lack of success in getting Congress to fully fund the E-Government Fund, cutting the Office of Governmentwide Policy’s budget would curtail the speed and success of federal e-gov efforts.

The folks in the office I’ve talked with say that someone at OMB has it out for them—and they do not know why. Someone at OMB believes the office’s work is duplicative, and the money could be better spent on homeland security or the war in Iraq, they say.

Others say this is a budget versus management struggle, with budget winning. I’ve talked with several former OMB and GSA officials who were not surprised by the possibility of OGP budget cuts. These folks said, “This conversation happens every year. What’s the big deal?”

And the figures show that the Office of Governmentwide Policy has come under the budget knife in the past. Although the office’s budget increased by $6.1 million between last year and this year, that bump came after three successive years of decreases. For 2002, Congress approved $143.1 million, but that included funds for such diverse projects as asset management, systems management, telecommunications, land use planning and support services to adjudicate Indian tribal claims. Governmentwide Policy’s budget was $66 million in 2003 and $56 million last year.

Even with $6.1 million extra this year, does it make sense to cut the budget again? Probably not. OMB is more dependent on the office than ever before, especially in the area of e-government.

Governmentwide Policy is the right arm of OMB’s Office of E-Government and IT. It helps develop and acquire many of the contractor services the e-gov office uses. It also provides staff resources to help OMB perform a number of duties, including managing the development of the Lines of Business consolidation initiatives and administering the E-Government Fund.

Many people within OMB recognize GSA’s contributions to meeting their mission and goals. OMB’s E-Government and IT Office consists of about five or six people who also double as IT budget analysts. They work long hours and have little time for some of the more operational functions GSA handles for them.

Published reports said GSA went through the normal OMB budgetary appeals process and is waiting to see how that works out.

So it is up to GSA administrator Stephen Perry to convince OMB director Joshua B. Bolten to rescind most of the cuts. If not, the administration once again will show that its support for e-government is more talk than action.

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