Editorial: Setting an example

E-government has become a metaphor. Why are agencies still in the same place Oct. 10, 2005, that they were in Sept. 10, 2001? To find the answer, follow the money — and one can see how the funding process for cross-agency projects is broken.

Funding e-government projects has always been complex and cumbersome. Using the pass-the-hat method, a lead agency cajoles others to participate in cross-agency projects.

This process is well-worn — the Clinton administration used it, too — but it simply doesn't work well. Some systemic reasons account for its defects. Cross-agency programs are difficult by their nature because they cross traditional boundaries, such as between agencies and Congress.

Furthermore, the president's budget has repeatedly included e-government funding to pay for cross-agency programs. And repeatedly, lawmakers have gutted it.

The Office of Management and Budget has urged agencies to play nice in the sandbox. But Congress sends a powerful message and undercuts OMB's valiant, albeit quixotic, efforts: Lawmakers don't take e-government seriously.

But there is no one place on Capitol Hill where anybody can deal with those issues.

The Constitution assigns Congress the responsibility of appropriating funds, yet lawmakers have failed to change a broken, antiquated process and fail to work together themselves.

Those cross-agency programs go beyond the e-government projects. The 9/11 Commission castigated Congress for failing to become more cohesive in its approach to national security.

If lawmakers can't collaborate on spending bills, is anybody surprised that they can't on national security, either?

The e-government projects should be a test for lawmakers. E-government issues are relatively easy, compared with national security concerns.

But the outlook is gloomy. Agencies are stuck. OMB is doing what it can. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has done yeoman's work, but he is not an appropriator, and he is only one member.

Industry can play a pivotal role by educating lawmakers about the importance of those cross-agency projects. But Congress will eventually have to accept its constitutional duties and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

— Christopher J. Dorobek

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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