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OMB official says e-government bill falls short

Legislation that aims to promote federal e-government initiatives does not do enough to hold agencies accountable for performance standards, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe told members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday. O'Keefe joined several other witnesses to dissect the "E-Government Act of 2001" (S. 803), introduced in May by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont. The bill would create a centralized government information Web portal and would set up an interagency technology fund. Its supporters say the legislation will bring "focused leadership" to electronic government efforts in the federal government. "Our goal is to use information technology to bring about a revolution in current bureaucratic structures so that we can engage the public, restore its trust and, ultimately, increase public participation in the democratic process," said Lieberman, who chairs the committee. The Bush administration's electronic government initiative aims to tie e-government goals to agency strategic objectives, O'Keefe said. "We are not sure the bill advances, in any measurable way, the results we are expecting from the President's management and performance plan," said O'Keefe. The bill also calls for a separate federal chief information officer, an idea the Bush administration continues to reject. The responsibilities of a federal chief information officer will remain under the jurisdiction of OMB's deputy director for management, O'Keefe said. That role would be augmented by a soon-to-be created board of senior national security officials, who would oversee the federal government's critical infrastructure protection efforts, O'Keefe said. Last month, Mark Forman, a vice president for e-business at Unisys Corp., was appointed to a newly created OMB position of associate director for information technology and e-government. Forman will report to OMB's deputy director for management when that position is filled. "The President believes that the OMB deputy director for management should be the governmentwide CIO because all management challenges are intertwined. This move ensures senior level commitment to IT and information resource management issues," O'Keefe said in written testimony. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., voiced skepticism about the whole e-government effort, commenting that many more pressing governmentwide problems, such as financial management and accountability, remain unsolved. "I'm talking about a shiny new chassis over an engine that ain't right," Thompson said. "We clearly haven't been able to get a grip on these management problems." Aldona Valicenti, president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, told committee members that any legislation or plan for electronic government should include technical and performance standards.