New law restricts e-gov initiatives

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A new law requires agencies to secure congressional approval before implementing e-government initiatives, according a letter circulated by e-Rulemaking Executive Committee members. The development could hinder further expansion of e-government initiatives as early as February.

The letter, posted Dec. 19, 2005, states that the Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act of 2006 mandated restrictions on governmentwide funding of e-government initiatives. President Bush signed the legislation Nov. 30, 2005. The Office of Management and Budget and the e-Rulemaking Program Management Office are reportedly working to resolve the restrictions.

At the current rate of expenditures, e-Rulemaking funds will be exhausted by mid-February, the letter states.

The heads of the e-Rulemaking Executive Committee, Kimberly Nelson, former chief information officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Donald Arbuckle, deputy administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, along with Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology, decided to allocate the remaining funds to maintain the current Federal Docket Management System, Regulations.gov, the letter states.

“We have no problem notifying Congress and sharing information with the Hill,” said OMB spokesman Alex Conant.

Conant said the issue is notification, not gaining congressional approval. The approval requirement will vary for each agency’s initiative. However, he said the new law impacts all aspects of e-government.

The new mandate “is not a death knell,” said Mark Forman, a partner at KPMG’s Federal Civilian Preferred Providers Services organization and former administrator for e-government and IT at OMB. He added that there is pressure to come up with a better approach. “I think this is actually a good sign. This is what e-gov is all about,” he said.

“In addition, in light of the funding shortfall, e-Rulemaking will suspend all further agency implementation and development activities, effective beginning second quarter [of fiscal] 2006,” the letter states. As resources are received, the program management office will continue to develop the initiatives as the funding allows, it states.

Drew Crockett, spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said the restriction is "a short-sighted view of projects that will prove to be valuable long-term investments.” He added that the committee is “currently exploring options to work with appropriators and get money flowing back into these important e-gov initiatives.”

The e-Rulemaking committee’s move ensures continued use for agencies that have already implemented and operate the FDMS/Regulations.gov and the public using the Web site.

E-Rulemaking refers to the collaboration of federal agencies in making rules regarding the use of digital technologies by the government.

“We recognize that this action will impact e-gov implementation plans for several agencies. We will continue to work with those agencies affected by this decision and renegotiated new migration and implementation dates,” the executive committee’s letter states.

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