Cut leaves agencies 'high and dry'
One of President Bush's biggest initiatives for federal information technology in the fiscal 2002 budget—a pool of money for cross.agency e-government projects—has run into a major snag on Capitol Hill.
The House, concerned by the administration's lack of cooperation with Congress on the measure, approved only $5 million for the fund as part of its appropriations bill passed last week. That's far short of the $20 million requested for the first installment of the proposed three-year, $100 million initiative.
The cuts will leave the government "high and dry in its efforts to reduce redundancy and save money through innovative e-government solutions," said Dan Heinemeier, president of the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association.
The White House created the fund to support government projects bridging several agencies and to increase agencies' electronic inter.actions with citizens.
But the House Appropriations Com.mittee's Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Subcommittee, which oversees the bill creating the funds, turned down the first-year funding request in part because the project that had never been authorized by Congress.
Panel members did not want to provide full funding for a new program and did not like that the administration "had tried to get in the back door" with the program, according to a committee aide. According to the House report on the appropriations bill, the subcommittee supports the general purpose of the e-government fund, but the panel wants OMB to work with the House Government Reform Committee to clarify how the fund would be used.
Also, given the governmentwide budget squeeze, the e-government fund "was not a high enough priority," the committee aide said.
But Mitchell Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, was optimistic that the administration would get more money. "We think we can do better" than the $5 million on the table now, he said.
The spending bill, approved by the full House July 25 despite a request from OMB asking for restoration of the full $20 million, also requires that any interagency projects applying for money from the fund must present a "proposed spending plan and justification" to the House Appropriations Committee.
The House and Senate must meet in conference to settle on a dollar amount before the bill goes to the president, and OMB leaders are working closely with both appropriations committees, Daniels said. But the Senate is likely to go along with the House, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee source.
In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the Information Technology Association of America also protested the reduced funding level.
"The e-government fund is a critical initiative to boost service to citizens and streamline interagency processes in the federal government, many of which are woefully out.dated," ITAA President Harris Miller wrote. He called the $20 million contained in the Bush budget "the bare minimum we need." Other industry officials and lawmaker representatives also expressed dismay.
"Five million is too low," said David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a key IT supporter. "We're not going to be able to work on crossagency projects with this kind of money."
"We hope that the final number is significant enough to help leverage that [$45 billion federal IT budget] to make a significant investment in government-to-government work," said Joiwind Ronen, director of the Council for Excellence in Government's Technology Leadership Consortium.
"I'm disappointed in the amount, but I'm pleased that some money was provided," said Alan Balutis, executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils. "We are in the early stages and the amount could get increased by Congress."
Diane Frank contributed to this story.