Officials expect congressional oversight of IT to increase

Observers don’t, however, expect drastic changes in government information technology policy.

Bush administration officials involved in information technology are preparing to spend more time testifying on Capitol Hill when Democrats take over the House and Senate for the 110th Congress.

Issues with high political visibility, such as cybersecurity and IT management policies at the Homeland Security Department, will receive additional scrutiny when the Democrats are in control, officials said.

At the same time, the power shift, which will likely propel Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Committee, has many wondering if the federal IT community lost its strongest voice in Congress: Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the outgoing chairman.

Davis has "a well-deserved reputation for being an advocate of the community writ large, not just the industry," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., industry group. "To date, Mr. Waxman has tended to focus more on what he sees as oversight."

A January 2006 report by the committee's Democratic staff members said the Republican-led Congress "has failed to conduct meaningful investigations of significant allegations of wrongdoing by the Bush administration."

While government officials and contractors are almost certain that Waxman will hold a slew of hearings on procurement-related matters, "It's hard to predict whether he'll delve into management-level issues, which is where the IT is," Soloway said.

But Steven Katz, a former counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee under then-Chairman John Glenn, D-Ohio, said that Davis' interest in IT was driven by his goal to build alliances in the IT community. Waxman recognizes the heightened role of IT in government, but has shown an ability to examine technology issues within the broader framework of agency effectiveness, Katz said.

In contrasting the two congressmen, Katz said Davis' staff often asked IT companies to help draft the questions for hearings, while Waxman is likely to conduct more aggressive oversight hearings and produce his own line of questioning.

James Krouse, acting director of market analysis for the Reston, Va., IT market research firm INPUT, said Waxman likely will spearhead intense reviews of the private sector's lobbying of government agencies and the use of soft money to secure contracts.

Davis, the outgoing chairman, will remain a "key player on that committee because he really cares about technology," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., a market analysis firm in McLean, Va. Waxman has said that as chairman, he would continue the committee's bipartisan tradition established by Davis.

Many in the IT community said they are hoping the current congressional leadership uses a lame-duck session to complete the fiscal 2007 appropriations process, but Krouse said IT contractors should expect Congress to pass another continuing resolution.

It's unlikely that Democratic control of the House and the Senate will result in any great upheaval in the appropriations process, Bjorklund said.

IT procurements for 2007 went through the planning stages years ago and it is unlikely one budget cycle under a different political party would completely change the picture, Bjorklund said.

But interagency transfers of funds to work on the Office of Management and Budget's e-government initiatives might flow more freely under Democrats, some observers predicted.

A high-level government source who supports the Bush administration's e-government efforts said on the condition of anonymity that under the Republican-led Congress, appropriators have been hostile toward attempts to improve government services through technology.

Demands from the House Appropriations Committee for the Office of Management and Budget to justify e-government spending through cost savings could be eased under Democrats, who have been historically friendlier to government initiatives, according to the source.

"The conversation is going to be less about saving money than about providing services to the citizens," the source said. "Places where we have had struggles justifying something that doesn't return money to the Treasury will be eased."