House panels offer fertile ground to review tech issues

By Aliya Sternstein

January 31, 2007

The leaders of the three House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees that touch on technology are not well known in industry circles -- yet.

"We're going to have to work to build a relationship with them," said Trey Hodgkins, senior director of defense and intelligence programs at the Information Technology Association of America.

The new Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee has yet to cement its agenda, but many expect the panel to troubleshoot problems regarding privacy and security of data, classified documents and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act -- all issues that involve technology.

Steven Engelhardt, a spokesman for subcommittee Chairman William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said the subcommittee also might examine how "technology enhancements help the Census [Bureau] do a better job of counting."

In a statement, full committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said that "while it's too early to discuss specific hearings or legislation, I look forward to working with Rep. Clay, to explore ways that technology can increase government openness and accessibility. Chairman Clay has expressed a strong interest in looking at how technology can significantly expand the accountability and transparency of our federal government."

The Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia Subcommittee is headed by a man who has expressed a substantial interest in technology training, but his background is not in technical or vocational education.

Chairman Danny Davis said that in particular, he wants to see technology training opportunities for individuals out of work and without any employable skills. "This relates to an age group that is beyond formal grade or secondary education, especially individuals who have been incarcerated or have criminal backgrounds but don't have any skills to enter the marketplace," the Illinois Democrat said.

Hodgkins said he hopes Davis' panel delves into "science, technology, engineering and math-type education programs, and the corresponding research and development that promotes that education."

The Government Management, Organization and Procurement Subcommittee will study some of the issues that most concern Waxman and Virginian Tom Davis, the top Republican on the full committee. Debate on big procurements, especially acquisitions tied to Iraq reconstruction and the scandal surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, likely will happen before the full committee because of Waxman's involvement, Hodgkins said.

The subcommittee is likely to examine the President's Management Agenda, which is focused on how well-managed e-government and other federal programs are.

Telework, a subject the minority side has said it wants to review, would benefit from a close analysis by the Government Management Subcommittee, said Fred Thompson, vice president for leadership and performance at the Council for Excellence in Government. "We're not near achieving the objective" of widespread telework adoption, he said.

Congress and the Bush administration view the practice as important in recruiting talent, keeping good workers and responding to disasters. Teleworking also is intended to reduce vehicle emissions and traffic congestion. "They need to look at some of the practical aspects of what does it take to actually engineer this," Thompson said.

By Aliya Sternstein

January 31, 2007