Under new Congress, IT issues seamless in Senate, unclear in House

Federal IT issues will receive closer scrutiny under the new leadership in Congress, but it is unclear whether the White House’s e-government initiative will sink or swim with the Democrats in charge, observers said.

That does not mean e-government is dead, as several experts noted that both the House Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have, at least under current leadership, built a solid reputation for bipartisanship.

Indeed, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), expected to be the new Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman next year if Democrats win the chamber, was a chief sponsor of the E-Government Act of 2002, and observers do not anticipate him abandoning this issue.

“I could actually see [the Senate] being more supportive of e-government,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation of Washington. “The impetus of this whole thing was from the Lieberman e-government bill.”

Jonathan Bruel, a senior fellow with the IBM Center for the Business of Government, agreed. “I’d expect considerable continuity in the Senate if Lieberman takes over as chairman,” he said. “He’s had a long-standing support for e-government.”

The House, though, is another story.

While most agree that current Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) has run his committee in a bipartisan fashion, no one is quite sure what ranking member Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) priorities will be if, as expected, he takes over the committee.

Davis came from industry, and many high-tech firms are located within his constituency, so IT issues and procurement are naturally top priorities for the Virginia congressman.

But observers note that Waxman has not been as vocal on these issues, and, given his opposition to many White House priorities, he will likely call for greater oversight.

“I think Waxman’s focus will turn more toward policy and less toward technology,” said one former government official.

This could give agencies skeptical of e-government a chance to slow progress on certain programs and wait out the remaining two years of the Bush administration, the official said.

“Agencies will feel empowered to drag their feet and wait for the administration to croak,” the official said, adding that complying with the President’s Management Agenda scorecard will not be a priority.

Still, some officials are optimistic that the new leadership will bring in new opportunities for the IT industry.

“Many leading Democrats in the new House either come from a district with a number of high-tech companies or are in districts close to those with a concentration of high-tech companies,” said William Archey, president and CEO of AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association). “We expect, under the Democrats, that our voice will be heard, and we will be given a fair hearing on the challenges facing high-tech in the next few years.”

Roseanne Gerin, staff writer for GCN’s sister publication Washington Technology, contributed to this story.

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