Election boosts Bush's IT agenda

For the federal IT community, the 107th Congress will be remembered mostly for how little it did'especially in agency appropriations, homeland security and IT.

So the expectations for the 108th Congress, which the Republicans will control following the midterm elections, are much higher, government observers said.

A unified Congress and administration will have the power to push an agenda forward that includes many IT and e-government initiatives.

'The president has voiced his belief that technology and e-government are important, and his initiatives are of strategic importance, so now we are waiting to see if he can deliver on that,' said John Spotila, a former Clinton administration official in the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and currently president and chief operating officer of GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va. 'The president now has what he always has wanted'a Republican Congress, so let's see if something will happen.'

On the appropriations front, the new Congress has no choice but to be more successful than the previous one. Lawmakers last month passed, and the president signed, only the Defense Department and Military Construction appropriations bills. Meanwhile, 11 other bills still languish on Capitol Hill.

And unless Congress acts soon, the Government Information Security Reform Act will sunset later this month, which could let funding for OMB's e-government projects get lost in the shuffle and permit a host of other IT-related bills to die in committee.

'Besides the education and tax bills, this has been a pretty lackluster Congress,' said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. 'With the election behind us, their sights should be pretty clear.'

'It is easier today than yesterday to get a bill passed,' said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington vendor association. 'The president has some momentum and may be entering another honeymoon period where Congress will give him major pieces of his agenda more easily.'

Several government observers agreed that the Republican Congress will make it easier for the administration to push its agenda. But with the difference in the Senate only four votes and with a 60-vote supermajority needed to pass any tax cut or mandatory spending legislation that would increase the deficit, many experts said the administration still will have to make concessions.

E-government funds

The centerpiece of the IT agenda is the administration's request for a $45 million fund for the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects. The Senate granted the request, but the House, where the Republicans increased their majority by at least four seats, allocated only $5 million.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who has lost his chairmanship of the Governmental Affairs Committee, sponsored the E-Government Act of 2001, S 803, which had $45 million for fiscal 2003, $55 million for 2004 and another $245 million for 2005 and 2006.

Other significant bills, such as Rep. Tom Davis' (R-Va.) Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, HR 3844, and parts of Davis' Services Acquisition Reform Act of 2002, HR 3832, were rolled into the Senate's version of the E-Government Act in September. House lawmakers, though, did not attach the bill to the homeland security bill to mirror the Senate's version.

Some presidential agenda items could get a shot in the arm, said Miriam Browning, who retired last month as the principal director for enterprise integration for the Army. The move toward public-private competition for noninherently governmental jobs will increase, for instance, she predicted. ITAA's Miller said opposition to this type of competition should lessen with the Republicans in control.

But most experts agreed that both parties have similar stakes in IT issues.

'I see less of a dramatic change in Congress when it comes to technology issues,' said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Excellence in Government in Washington. 'Technology is a very bipartisan issue, it continues to be a growing priority for agencies and Congress, and it is gaining momentum. E-government is the future, and it is to the government's advantage to do it smartly,' she said.

Most experts also said they are pleased with probable changes in committees that deal with IT issues. Rep. Davis has voiced a desire to take over for Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) as the chairman of the Government Reform Committee. If Davis moves up, there would be a new chairman of the Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, which he currently leads.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is poised to become the chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), the committee's current ranking Republican, is retiring.

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