Is E-Gov Act in jeopardy?

The E-Government Act of 2002 is in danger of expiring Sept. 30 because of a last-minute hold by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the reauthorization bill.

According to a Senate staff member, Leahy said he would not lift the hold unless the Senate accepts an amendment that would require privacy assessments of commercial data services that include sensitive personal information when agencies use the services.

The 2007 E-Government Reauthorization Act would extend the legislation until 2012. If the reauthorization fails, there is no mechanism to extend the act temporarily, the staff member said.

If the E-Government Act expires, several federal information technology services and initiatives could suffer, experts say.

President Bush signed the original act Dec. 17, 2002. Many analysts say it was the first major IT legislation since the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.

Norm Lorentz, vice president of the Council for Excellence in Government, said the reauthorization would sustain the momentum for government improvement and failure to reauthorize it might erode what the 2002 legislation has instituted within the agencies.

“It would be a travesty if it wasn’t passed because it’s the epitome of good government,” he said. It brought about enterprise architecture, lines of business, privacy protections and changes in Office of Management and Budget guidance, he added.

The Federal Information Security Management Act, which directs agencies to comply with guidance to assure their systems and networks are secure, and the E-Government Fund, which supports the review of interagency IT initiatives, are both tied to the act. OMB manages those programs.

An administration official said the reauthorization bill provides a framework for future congressional efforts to make the federal government more accessible and citizen-centered. Specifically, the bill would extend numerous governmentwide initiatives that serve the public directly, such as USA.gov, GovBenefits.gov, Regulations.gov and Recreation.gov.   

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had approved the reauthorization bill, S. 2321, in mid-September, and it was slated for a Senate floor vote. Among its provisions, it directed the development of best practices for improving privacy impact assessments and makes online government information more accessible for searching.

Leahy added his language to the section of the bill that details protections for the privacy of sensitive information of individuals as agencies implement citizen-centered electronic government programs and services.

According to the amendment he proposed, agencies would conduct a privacy impact assessment when they buy personally identifiable information from a data broker, which is a business that collects and provides access to sensitive personal data on more than 5,000 individuals in total.

The E-Government Act already requires privacy impact assessments when agencies develop or buy information technology that collects, maintains or disseminates sensitive personal information and when agencies initiate a new collection of personally identifiable information. 

Some observers expect e-government initiatives to suffer limited effects if the reauthorization bill fails. It would stop funding for interagency programs, such as the Information Technology Exchange Program, which allows government and industry IT experts to swap positions. However, agencies can fund most agency-specific programs through their own budget.

Ari Schwartz, vice president and chief operating officer of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said he believes that things would be generally status quo without passage of the reauthorization.

However, Trey Hodgkins, vice president of federal government programs at the Information Technology Association of America, said agencies could be restricted by old language if the reauthorization bill doesn’t pass.

“You could stagnate them where they are,” he said.

Both Schwartz and Hodgkins support the original reauthorization bill but take different stands on the proposed amendments to the legislation. Hodgkins said it would hinder work with private industry, particularly regarding security clearances. The government has had to rely more heavily on contractors and Leahy’s amendment would be an impediment to private industry, he added.

About the Authors

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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