OMB delivers report to better sell e-government

The Office of Management and Budget submitted its mandated report to Congress Friday detailing the spending and benefits of all 25 e-government and five Line of Business Consolidation projects, hoping to sell lawmakers on why these initiatives are important.

The 179-page report breaks down the progress and advantages of each project, the participation by each agency per project and the amount of money each agency is contributing to each project.

For fiscal 2006, OMB reported, agencies will spend more than $192.9 million on the 30 initiatives.

“OMB is treating this as a request, not as a notification, so a reprogramming request requires them to develop a report and submit it to Congress and meet with the appropriators,” said a government official who requested anonymity. “OMB saw this as necessary transparency.”

Lawmakers required OMB to submit a report and gain approval before spending any more money on e-government projects through a provision in the 2006 Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Judiciary and other related agencies appropriations bill. The provision called for OMB to detail:
  • The amount proposed for transfer for any department and agency by program office, bureau, or activity

  • The specific use of funds

  • The relevance of that use to the department or agency and to each bureau or office within that is contributing funds

  • A description on any such activities for which funds were appropriated that will not be implemented or partially implemented by the department or agency as a result of the transfer.

“There was widespread concern about how this program has been implemented,” said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee. “OMB announced it; we never funded it; and they coerced agencies to fund it. We said if you want to fund these projects, tell us how much and tell us why it is a good idea, come up with a plan, sell it to Congress, and we will [either] approve it or not.”

The committee now has 15 days to approve the spending request.

If the committee does not approve funding, a number of projects could be in trouble, including e-rulemaking, the Integrated Acquisition Environment, Business Gateway and Grants.gov, federal officials said.

“The language impacts every single e-government initiative,” said a former government official who requested anonymity and used to work closely on a project. “This is totally appropriate for Congress to do this, but this situation is a little unique.”

The former official said OMB is not reprogramming money but making sure agencies are getting services the most efficient and cost effective way.

“OMB never took money out of someone’s budget,” the former official said. “There is no difference if an agency wants to buy services from one agency or from the private sector. Some people haven’t done good job in getting Congress on board with a common vision, or Congress still doesn’t understand. We have a disconnect and that is a problem.”

But Scofield said it is more than a disconnect. He points to a time when budgets are especially lean and OMB is forcing agencies to spend money on things that are not the priority of lawmakers.

“At the National Park Service, for instance, we are scrimping and scraping for park operations funds, and then we find out they have been tapped for $1.5 million for e-government projects without congressional approval. That was a low priority for Congress, and that was where it caused concern.”

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