Congress, OMB resume tug of war over E-Gov

Johnson calls provisions in appropriations bill ‘unprofessional, illegal’

Clay Johnson needed
a minute or two before giving his
views on the scathing evaluation
of e-government included in the
Labor, Health and Human Services,
and Education fiscal 2007
appropriations bill.


“Let me find the right words
here,” said the deputy director for
management at the Office of
Management and Budget, when
asked about provisions that require
career program managers
to certify that certain e-government
projects are actually saving
agencies money.


After taking a second, Johnson
was quite clear:
“It’s irresponsible, dysfunctional,
disappointing, unprofessional,
[and] illegal,” he said after a
luncheon event sponsored by the
Association for Federal Information
Resource Management in
Washington. “It is illegal for
[Congress] to require exactly
how an organization is to manage
itself, who has to approve
what, and to designate a person
by their employment status—career
versus political.”


In case there was any doubt, the
annual turf battle between congressional
appropriators and
OMB over the e-government initiatives
is on, even after the administration
this year launched
an unprecedented campaign to
convince skeptical appropriators
of the program’s benefits.


But if two appropriations bills
that went to the floor earlier this
month are any indication, the
outreach efforts fell on deaf ears.


“It is incumbent on OMB to
prove to the Congress that these
initiatives have value. Obviously,
they still have some work to do,”
said John Scofield, House Appropriations
Committee spokesman.


The bills—the Labor and HHS
bill and the Departments of
Transportation, Treasury, and
Housing and Urban Development,
the Judiciary, District of
Columbia, and independent
agencies appropriations bill for
fiscal 2007—leveled familiar
barbs against e-gov programs in
general and precluded agencies
from spending any funds on them
without congressional approval.


“The committee has become increasingly
concerned over the
failure of this initiative to produce
meaningful results, the
huge reported costs of implementation
and the resulting
delay or loss” of IT investments,
the bill’s report language said.
Johnson said OMB will continue
meeting with the appropriators
on this issue.


But the language, he said, “is
not becoming of Congress. Congress
should be operating at a
higher plane than this. They
should be thinking more constructively
rather than destructively
about e-government.”

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