OMB makes headway on e-gov funding

The Office of Management and Budget believes it has made a significant breakthrough with lawmakers about the benefits of e-government.

Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT, and her staff met with Senate Appropriations Committee staff members last week to provide more details about how e-government programs work and what difference they are making in agencies.

“This was the most progress we’ve made with the Hill,” said Evans, who refused to name the exact subcommittee she met with. “These staffers really wanted to understand how e-government works. This was not a value judgement or about money.”

Hill sources confirmed it was the Veterans Affairs and Military Construction Subcommittee.

"I understand OMB and the VA were both very forthcoming and helpful," said a Senate Appropriations Committee spokeswoman. "Everyone is cooperating fully at this time, and a lot of progress was made at last week’s meeting."

For the past five years, congressional appropriators have been skeptical about funding e-government. Lawmakers never fully appropriated the E-Government Fund at the administration’s request—coming up about $87 million short of the $100 million goal.

In addition, OMB annually has to fight to remove or water down restrictive provisions in agency spending bills that target how agencies fund e-government. For fiscal 2007, the congressional appropriations committees, especially the House, put in some of the most restrictive language in spending bills.

OMB for years has tried to educate the Hill about e-government, but have had little luck in getting their message across. While they have been able to reduce the impact of some language, almost all 25 E-Government projects have been delayed or affected.

“We are trying to educate members of Congress on why they should have interest in the government being more effective that are meaningful to their constituents,” said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, today at a luncheon in Washington sponsored by the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the National Academy of Public Administration. “We have to educate them about e-government, for instance, because they don’t know enough about it.”

But Evans said this session was different.

“This year we got to a level of granularity that we never reached before,” Evans said after the IBM event. “We talked about how we get value and what the oversight process is.”

She added that the staff members did their homework and were prepared for the conversation.

“I feel confident that the committee knows that for the questions they have we have good information for them to make their decision,” Evans said. “They understand how to use the information collectively and make recommendations.”

Johnson said the committee staff members would check out some of the things OMB brought to their attention and, likely, would discuss it with other subcommittee staff members before getting back to OMB with any questions.

Johnson also said he believes that the current funding models—pass the hat, fee for service or line item in specific agency bills—is working well because it forges agency ownership of the projects.

“This is one issue we will discuss during this fall’s IT and e-government director review,” Johnson said.

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