Commerce gets Senate nod for e-gov money

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved late Friday approximately two-thirds of the Commerce Department’s fiscal 2005 e-government budget.

Congress constrained Commerce in its spending bill for fiscal 2005 from transferring funds to e-government projects without giving both congressional appropriations committees 15 days' notice. That 15-day period has long since passed for Commerce's request.

Federal Computer Week reported in its Oct. 3 issue that there was a power struggle between Congress and the Office of Management and Budget about Commerce's contributions to the 24 e-government projects. The committee's acted after that story went to print.

The Senate committee gave its blessing for Commerce to spend $2.3 million of the $3.4 million the department had budgeted for e-government projects in fiscal 2005, according to a government official. The difference of $1.1 million comes entirely from the share of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That agency may not contribute any dollars during fiscal 2006 because of language in the committee’s spending bill that explicitly prohibits NOAA from funding e-government. The bill has yet to be forwarded to the president for his signature.

Under law, Commerce never needed to wait for approval of any congressional committee before committing resources already approved by Congress and the president. Such a legislative veto was declared unconstitutional in the 1983 case INS v Chadha. However, in practice, Congress expects and many agencies comply with a de facto approval requirement, the latter for fear of having their next years’ appropriations reduced.

The government official, who asked not to be identifed, defended the practice of agencies paying directly for e-government projects. “That’s happening now anyway.” Agencies pay the General Services Administration to handle a variety of cross-agency services, the official said.

Fee for services “assures that agencies get what they pay for,” the official said. “They acquire service consistent with their appropriations, but that acquisition of service might just not be internally, it might be from another sources, i.e. e-government.”

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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