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Lawmaker to probe results of agencies' R&D spending, e-gov efforts

Providing grants for research and development projects has long been a staple of federal government spending. Now one lawmaker wants to take stock of those projects to determine whether the government is getting value for its investments.

"I want us to find some better way of getting our arms around the federal research agenda," said Florida Republican Adam Putnam, chairman of the House Government Reform Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee.

"The federal government spends a lot on R&D, whether it's [for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], development of biological weapons" or other initiatives, Putnam said in an interview. "I am not sure that any one person ... really has a grasp on this federal research agenda. Where are we getting bang for our buck? ... I'd like us to take a look at that."

Putnam wants to review research efforts at federal departments, including projects that are outsourced to private institutions and universities, to determine how well those programs are managed. The Energy Department, for example, attracted scrutiny after reports of lax security and financial abuses at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which is managed by the University of California system.

Putnam's district may well boast more orange orchards than high-tech concerns, but his interest in information technology has put him squarely in the path of several controversial issues, such as data mining, that are among the federal government's counter-terrorism and homeland security initiatives.

The subcommittee will hold a hearing in early May to address the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program, which seeks to develop data-mining tools to search both public and private databanks for information that could halt potential terrorists.

"I think there are some legitimate issues for us to address, but I think the bulk of the data mining that's going on today, and has been going on in the public and private sectors, is a consolidation of existing databases, existing information, exiting public records," Putnam said. "As we expand our knowledge of what [the Pentagon] was up to ... we have an opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to begin laying out some markers for what's appropriate."

Putnam's subcommittee also plans to evaluate the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives, which seek to modernize the way government functions and make it more citizen friendly by employing the Internet and other technologies. In particular, the subcommittee in July plans to address issues surrounding digital archives and the development of standards to store electronic documents, Putnam said.

But "one of the recurring themes" that surrounds e-government and R&D is the management of workers," he said. "We have to invest in attracting bright capable, young professionals in IT and information management and systems to the federal government, and persuade them that it's a good place to spend their time."