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Budget Deal Puts the Squeeze on E-Gov Programs

By John K. Higgins
Apr 26, 2011 5:00 AM PT

The budget deal worked out between the White House and Congress for the 2011 fiscal year will directly impact the federal e-government program. The spending agreement will put a severe crimp in a program that bolsters government transparency efforts, as well as initiatives designed to modernize IT management, according to supporters of the e-government initiative.

Budget Deal Puts the Squeeze on E-Gov Programs

The program is administered by the Office of E-Government and Information Technology within the Office of Management and Budget.

The E-Government Office "develops and provides direction in the use of Internet-based technologies to make it easier for citizens and businesses to interact with the federal government, save taxpayer dollars, and streamline citizen participation," according to its mission statement.

The program supports USA.gov, the major Web portal for citizen contact with federal agencies; data.gov, a federal website portal providing access to a broad base of federal data and statistics, and the IT Dashboard, a site that reports on the effectiveness of federal IT programs. The day-to-day operations of the e-government program are conducted by the General Services Administration.

The budget agreement slashes US$26 million from the e-government initiative, reducing it from $34 million in 2010 to just $8 million in 2011.

"The cuts made to online transparency programs are deep and debilitating. Compared to other programs, the cuts are disproportionately deep," said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation, an open government advocacy group.

In addition to their effect on specific government Web portals, the e-government cuts may also have a domino effect on the management of government IT resources, Schuman told the E-Commerce Times. The budget deal would reduce spending by an estimated $10 million on OMB efforts directed toward the adoption of cloud computing, including the nascent Apps.gov program, data center consolidation, and promotion of mobile media.

Another $9.5 million in cuts would affect the USA.gov portal, the IT Dashboard posting, and the development of a program for measuring IT performance. Funding for the implementation of the OMB 25-point plan for improving federal IT management and procurement would be cut by about $1.5 million.

Congressional Concern

The cuts have not gone unnoticed in Congress.

"I worry that the decision to cut funding for the E-Gov program may well prove to be penny-wise and pound-foolish," Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., says in a letter to Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra.

"I remain concerned with how the new lower funding level for the E-Gov Fund might not only impede the progress made thus far to make government more open and transparent, but also harm efforts to cut wasteful and duplicative spending in the federal government," Carper says.

Carper, who chairs a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee dealing with federal information technology, asked Kundra to provide additional information to the committee on the impact of the cuts and tell him "how our subcommittee can be of help."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., reportedly is concerned about the cuts and has suggested that possibly through budget "reprogramming," the funding could be at least partially restored, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which cited a Federal News Radio report.

The foundation has distributed a letter about the e-government cuts to Congress.

"Overall, the response from members and congressional staff has been surprise that these programs were on the chopping block in the first place," said Schuman. "Nearly everyone realizes their importance, but not everyone knew the details on how they were funded. Our letter has helped raise awareness of the role the e-government fund plays, and prompted expressions of support for many of these programs."

The Federal Buzz: Notes on Government IT

Google teams with agencies: U.S. government agencies are increasingly taking advantage of the Internet to enhance their customer-facing capabilities. The latest example is a joint venture among Google, the U.S. Government Printing Office and the GSA. The agencies will now make 100 of the most popular U.S. government publications available for free over the Internet through the Google Books program. Consumers will be able to view and download PDF copies of these publications to desktops, laptops and various e-readers. GSA's Federal Citizen Information Center has been distributing consumer publications from GPO's Public Documents Distribution Center since the 1970s. That physical distribution effort now will be complemented by electronic access through an existing tie-in between Google and GPO.

"Google provides the means for millions of people to find content from federal agencies -- even if they didn't know that content previously existed. By doing a simple Google search, a person is prompted that a free publication exists on the topic," GPO spokesperson Gary Somerset told the E-Commerce Times. "Consumers can read the document online, print it out, or order a printed copy through the GPO Online Bookstore or GSA's Federal Citizen Information Center.

The Google Books Partner Program enables publishers to promote their books. Google scans the full text of participating publishers' titles so that Google users can see books that match the topics that they are searching through a Google-hosted Web page. GSA said its market research indicates that 74 percent of the public wants to access government information both online and in printed form.

FEMA Faulted: The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to significantly improve its information technology programs. In a report issued in early April, the Inspector General's Office at the Department of Homeland Security said FEMA's "existing existing information technology systems do not support disaster response activities effectively."

While FEMA has a number of information technology modernization initiatives under way, the agency lacks a comprehensive information technology strategic plan, the report notes. In addition, FEMA has not completed its efforts to document the agency's enterprise architecture.

"Without these critical elements, the agency is challenged to establish an effective approach to modernize its information technology infrastructure and systems," said Frank Deffer, assistant inspector general at DHS. FEMA spent $391 million on IT in 2010.


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