Senate slashes $40 million from e-government fund

The $390 billion fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations package passed by the Senate late Thursday includes only $5 million of the $45 million originally earmarked for interagency electronic government projects.

The House Treasury-Postal appropriations bill also sets aside $5 million for the interagency e-government fund.

But Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, will push to add $40 million back into the spending package when House and Senate negotiators meet to hammer out a final version, a committee spokeswoman said.

As part of his management agenda, President Bush has encouraged agencies to develop Web sites that make the federal government more efficient and more accessible to the public. Twenty-four e-government initiatives are under way, ranging from www.irs.gov, which gives taxpayers access to free online filing services, to an e-training site for federal workers.

On Dec. 17, 2002, Bush signed an e-government bill that authorized $345 million to fund interagency technology initiatives over four years. The law also created a national e-government office and established stricter guards against privacy violations on federal Web sites.

"[The e-government bill] brings the federal government fully into the electronic age, giving taxpayers the same round-the-clock access to government that they have come to expect from the private sector," said Lieberman, who introduced the legislation in May 2001. "And, with its emphasis on better management of information services, this law will significantly add to our homeland defenses."

But the $5 million appropriated for e-government projects in the Senate version of the omnibus bill falls far short of the funding levels necessary to implement the lofty goals outlined in the e-government bill, according to the Information Technology Association of America, an advocacy group with more than 400 corporate members.

"It's astonishing that Congress has so far funded only $5 million of the president's proposed e-government fund," said Harris Miller, the association's president, in a statement. "As the Bush administration clearly understands, e-government initiatives streamline federal, state and local services, and ultimately will help cut time and costs for services."

Miller urged the congressional conference committee that will iron out differences in the omnibus spending bill to "fix this mistake" by authorizing the full $45 million originally intended for e-government projects.

A final e-government appropriation of $5 million would put a significant strain on projects and hamper process in e-authentication and the federal enterprise architecture that the Office of Management and Budget has worked on over the past six months, said David McClure, vice president of e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonpartisan advocacy group. But not all e-government projects would feel the strain equally.

In the current budget environment, e-government advocates will have to work extra hard to convince the conference committee that more money for interagency technology initiatives is warranted, according to McClure.

"Clearly the budget scenario and the impending possibility of war have put everything in the budget under more scrutiny," he said. "The administration will have to paint a clear picture of how the money would be used and what kind of impact it would have."

Even if the conference committee does not add $40 million to the $5 million currently appropriated for interagency e-government projects, McClure said he is hopeful that the fund will make up for lost ground in next year's appropriations process, providing the overall budget situation improves. The e-government bill is designed so that more and more money is authorized to the interagency fund each year, he explained. The bill authorizes $50 million for fiscal year 2004, $100 million for fiscal 2005 and $150 for 2006.

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