EPA’s Nelson: E-gov supporters should lobby Congress

HERSHEY, Pa.—Over the past five years, many members of Congress—especially those on the appropriations committees—have made it abundantly clear that the benefits of e-government are unclear.

That is why at least one CIO is calling on the administration and even industry to take a new approach to convincing lawmakers why they should support e-government.

Kim Nelson, Environmental Protection Agency CIO, said the Office of Management and Budget, CIOs, agency officials and industry executives should “plant the seeds” in Congress of how e-government is affecting the general public.

“We have hard-core results that we can show,” Nelson said earlier this week at the 2005 Executive Leadership Conference co-sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council and the American Council for Technology. “It is frustrating why Congress doesn’t get it and why it is so difficult for them to embrace.”

David Walker, Government Accountability Comptroller, said agencies do not identify best practices and success stories often enough.

Since the administration took office in 2001 and made e-government one of the five management priorities, OMB has had little success in obtaining cross-agency funding for projects and convincing lawmakers that the benefits outweigh the loss of oversight and control.

Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, said it still is a “mystery” why there is opposition to e-government.

“As good of a job as we’ve done, we need to go up there and say ‘stop this,’ ” Johnson said. “We need to tell [Congress] what e-government is and a vote against e-government is a vote against good service to the citizen. A vote for e-government is good politics, and a vote against it is bad politics.”

While Johnson pointed to examples where President Bush was willing to veto spending bills with language that the administration felt would limit the ability to compete federal jobs with the private sector, Bush has never spent political capital on e-government.

“OMB hasn’t built a large enough coalition on e-government,” Nelson said. “They thought they could do it on their own.”

Five years later it is clear to Nelson and others that an “army” of supporters must make their case to legislators.

Nelson has been talking to EPA appropriators about the benefits of e-government and encouraging industry to include e-government as a part of the lobbying strategy. She also said OMB could provide a standard set of talking points for CIOs and agency executives to take to the Hill during budget hearings.

“Many people work the Hill. They talk about procurement regulations or upcoming contracts, but they don’t talk about the benefits of e-government,” Nelson said. “If we had all these people saying the same message, we would be in much better shape.”

Nelson added that industry does not need to convince all 535 members of Congress, but to identify a few key decisionmakers per committee and educate them on the benefits of e-government.

“We need more than [Rep.] Tom Davis (R-Va.) to support this issue,” she said. “But we need enough to get e-government on the agenda and make sure Congress understands what they are getting in return for e-government.”

Walker added that industry and agencies need to be “patient, persistent and go through a lot of pain” before they will find success in getting members to understand the benefits of e-government.

Nelson suggested that maybe there needs to be a new subcommittee to oversee cross-agency funding to help Congress come to terms with e-government work.

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