Bush e-gov fund to double

One of President Bush's chief budget writers said March 22 that the administration has decided to double the $10 million e-government fund proposed in the president's draft budget Feb. 28.

The administration is now willing to spend $20 million next year to nurture e-government initiatives, said Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. But he warned that the administration intends to impose strict standards on the types of proj-ects that will qualify for the fund.

O'Keefe also signaled that the administration intends to review information technology spending in general for waste. The government spends about $40 billion a year on IT, and not all of it is spent effectively, O'Keefe said in an address to the Congressional Internet Caucus.

Putting more information and services online is a top priority, O'Keefe said. But he warned that the administration plans to impose businesslike discipline on e-government endeavors.

For example, the administration plans "to establish a series of specific results" that each major IT project will be expected to accomplish, he said. Then agency chiefs will be required to show "what they are budgeting for and how it is going to accomplish established performance criteria."

Agencies will be encouraged to adopt performance-based contracting "that states upfront what we want as the outcome," O'Keefe said. And agencies must show that their proj-ects are "citizen-oriented" or user-friendly. "That's got to be the first element, lest we end up with a marvelous capability that can only be accessed" by the technically savvy, he said.

To be eligible for the fund, projects must be interagency endeavors. "That's non-negotiable," O'Keefe said.

Projects that support FirstGov, the governmentwide Web portal, are likely to be good candidates for funding. FirstGov "is a first good, modest effort of what we are trying to accomplish."

And to win support, O'Keefe said projects must have "a capital planning element" that spells out costs, benefits and future projections. Money from the e-government fund must be supplemental to funding already budgeted and cannot be used to shift money from one project to another.

O'Keefe said the administration's plans are similar enough to others being proposed that agreement on legislation "could be achieved in a matter of months."

However, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) told the caucus he is drafting an e-government bill that contains striking differences.

Lieberman, too, calls for creating an e-government fund, but he is proposing $200 million for next year instead of $20 million. He also wants to appoint a federal chief information officer rather than assigning that job as an extra duty for OMB's deputy director for management.

Lieberman said, "OMB's tiny information branch has been buried in layers of bureaucracy for a very long time." He wants a CIO with greater autonomy over federal IT policies — one who would report to the OMB director but work closely with CIOs of federal agencies, project managers within agencies, state and local government officials, and others.

The CIO should have the authority to review agency budgets and activities related to IT projects and wield substantial influence over re-engineering the delivery of federal services, Lieberman said. The person would be responsible for leadership, coordination and the vision for e-government.

So far, "efforts to digitize the federal government have been uneven," said Lieberman, who added that progress has been particularly slow where interagency coordination has been required.

O'Keefe said the Bush administration opposes Lieberman's idea of a strong federal CIO. Such a position might give agency chiefs a reason "to dismiss their responsibility" for the success or failure of agencies' IT projects, he said.

WHO WANTS TO BE DDM?

Bush administration e-government efforts will be headed by the Office

of Management and Budget's deputy director for management — that is, when

somebody can be found for the job.

When asked about progress toward filling the post, Deputy OMB Director

Sean O'Keefe said a number of people have been considered, but there is

no list of final candidates. "Do you know how hard it is to get someone

to take one of these jobs?" he quipped.

Required disclosure of personal financial information, restrictions

on financial activity, relatively low government salaries and intrusive

background checks make senior-level federal jobs unattractive to many in

the private sector.

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