Senate committee questions e-gov ROI

Senate report on appropriations bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended no funding for e-government activities in fiscal 2007, calling the benefits of the Bush administration’s e-government initiatives vague and realistic savings uncertain in a committee report.

The committee’s report on the 2007 Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriations Act states that the administration cannot quantify the benefits of cross-agency initiatives. It adds that the administration conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the initiatives on a governmentwide basis only.

“Therefore, the committee has no confidence that the amounts being assessed have any relationship to the benefits anticipated to be returned,” according to the report. The limitations would affect agencies covered under this appropriations bill.

Moreover, the committee raised concerns about the agencies’ authority.

“Consolidation, when taken too far as an objective, can become an excuse to usurp decision-making from agencies and leave them without the ability to acquire the critical technology to become more efficient and effective,” the report continues.

The committee is concerned that the transfer of funds may go beyond what the E-Government Act and other statutes regarding revolving funds allow.

Such transactions conceal the total costs of developing and maintaining e-government information technology systems. They also hide government and contractor performance in meeting budget, schedule and program requirements, the committee said.

“Considering the difficulty the federal government has in managing large, complex IT acquisitions, the committee believes that the [e-government] initiatives would benefit from greater public accountability and should be administered in a manner that does not impede congressional oversight,” according to the report.

For requests related to e-government initiatives, language in the appropriations bill would require a cost-benefit analysis, information about the business metrics agencies use to measure a successful execution, and a projection of all savings an agency achieves through its contributions to the initiatives. An agency’s inspector general must validate the analyses.

The savings must be greater than Congress’ original purpose for the funds, the bill states.

“I believe the language speaks for itself and reiterates what the subcommittee has been saying for the past year, that in order for this initiative to be successful, we need to have a better understanding of the costs and benefits and clearer guidance for the agencies to follow,” said Mike Hettinger, staff director at the House Government Reform Committee’s Government Management, Finance and Accountability Subcommittee.

The subcommittee has held numerous hearing on the Financial Management Line of Business.

“The administration needs to fully engage the appropriators and staffs with a strategic educational program around the [e-government] initiatives. Anything less will be inadequate,” a Bush administration official said.

The Senate has not yet passed the appropriations bill.

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