White House balks at Senate confirmation for e-gov chief

The White House generally supports legislation that would create an e-government chief's position at the Office of Management and Budget, but Bush officials are balking at a provision that requires the official to be confirmed by the Senate.

The legislation, known as the E-Government Act (H.R. 2458), passed the Senate in June and is awaiting action in the House. Besides creating the e-government position-which mirrors the current role of Mark Forman, assistant director for information technology and e-government at OMB-the measure also requires agencies to protect the privacy of citizens using federal Web sites and reauthorizes the 2000 Government Information Security Reform Act, which is set to expire Nov. 29.

OMB supports these measures, but opposes Senate confirmation for the e-government chief, in part because of the lengthy confirmation process for presidential appointees, said Mark Everson, deputy director for management at OMB.

"We think it's time for executive branch officials to be able to get on the job quicker," he said at a hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy on Wednesday. "People coming from the private sector are used to fast-moving change, not six-month delays," he said.

When asked by a reporter if he would recommend that President Bush veto the bill over the confirmation provision, Everson demurred. "I haven't thought of that," he said. "But that's the one provision about which we're most concerned."

Industry officials strongly urged the committee to create a position for a federal chief information officer who would be capable of streamlining duplicative IT systems at federal agencies. Roger Baker, a former CIO at the Commerce Department who is now executive vice president at CACI International, said Commerce spends an average of $7,000 each year in IT support costs for every desktop computer at the department. Simply consolidating the numerous help desks in the department into one infrastructure could save more than $130 million annually, he said.

OMB has resisted creating a federal CIO with powers equal to the agency's deputy director for management, but Forman has led an effort to crack down on duplicative IT spending at agencies slated to move to the proposed Homeland Security Department.

The e-government bill also provides a statutory foundation for the federal Chief Information Officers Council, which is made up of agency CIOs. It requires agencies to conduct "privacy impact assessments" before collecting information from visitors to government Web sites, a technique that has already been used by the Postal Service and Internal Revenue Service.

The bill also requires agencies to make sure that people without internet access can still access government information. Roughly 46 percent of the U.S. population was not using the internet in September 2001, according to testimony from Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the General Accounting Office.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chair of the Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, praised the e-government bill but said he would look to add measures to simplify information technology acquisition and improve IT training for federal employees.

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