Budget chief sees improvement on technology front

Reflecting on his final days director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels said the Bush administration's approach to managing information technology investments is succeeding.

Daniels told National Journal Group reporters in an interview last week that he is proud of how his office has managed technology and e-government programs.

In the past, Daniels, said, "government ... has done a horrible job of acquiring and using information technology. We're spending $58 billion this year, and a lot of it's not only misspent, it's counterproductively spent. That is to say, agencies are building systems that won't work even with the systems in their own agencies, let alone across the government."

To remedy that problem, OMB has relied on a federal law known as the Clinger-Cohen Act to ensure that the government is not misspending taxpayer dollars. He called that statute "an unusual tool" that allows the White House and executive branch "to put our big, hairy foot down in the path of any IT investment that doesn't meet certain tests."

"It hadn't been used until we got here," Daniels added. "But we've used it a lot. I hope my successors will use it continually to reshape IT investment so we get a more interoperable and effective system across the government."

At the behest of consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader and the Consumer Project on Technology, Daniels and other OMB officials have been contemplating a move that could force federal agencies to purchase common software, such as word processors and graphics-presentation programs, to adhere to open standards.

The move, according to the project's executive director, James Love, would boost competition for "open source" software whose code is open to inspection and alteration by users and lower prices for the government.

"I am very interested in the subject, but I don't pretend to know enough to know exactly what the right answers are on the open-source subject," Daniels said. He added, however that "government deserves a lot better deal than it's getting, all say this, from some of its major vendors."

Right now, OMB is discussing ways to get " better volume discounts and pricing" from software vendors. "Part of that might be to encourage wider competition, which I think takes you in the direction-maybe-of open source," he said.