108th Congress will focus on oversight

President George W. Bush signs the E-Government Act of 2002, flanked by Reps. Jim Turner (D-Texas) left, and Tom Davis (R-Va.).

Paul Morse

The 108th Congress will likely make its mark on federal IT more through oversight than legislation.

Congressional insiders and industry analysts said they expect technology to continue to play a vital role in nearly every piece of legislation that Congress proposes. But they said oversight of the new Homeland Security Department, implementation of the revised OMB Circular A-76 and the E-Government Act, and setting agency funding strategies will take center stage over the next 11 months.

'The technology issues of privacy, security, spam and others will continue to resurface,' said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. '2002 ended up being an incredibly busy year for IT issues, more than we anticipated. But how much Congress does this year will depend on a number of things, such as the potential war with Iraq, the presidential election and how well the parties work together.'

The 107th Congress considered more than 1,500 bills that included some reference to technology and 61 of those bills became law. The E-Government Act of 2002, Cyber Security R&D Act, Homeland Security Department Act and Technology Talent Act were among the most significant pieces of IT legislation that became law last year. And each outlines considerable work for agencies.

Framework first

'The E-Government Act put in place a framework that now has to be executed,' said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Excellence in Government. 'The need for oversight comes first, and the need for more legislation might develop later on.'

Many observers also said Congress will be preoccupied with finalizing long-delayed fiscal 2003 appropriations and overseeing the establishment of Homeland Security.

Jim Serafin, vice president of marketing and government relations for the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association, said with all these competing priorities he doesn't expect Congress to pay too much attention to new technology issues until much later in the session.

'The focus for now will be on management issues like Homeland Security's organization and how agencies are managing their budgets,' he said. 'There is a certain amount of digesting that still needs to be done.'

Domestic defense

Even so, a staff member for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee said the committee probably will be busy on the IT front. The staff member said technology will continue to play a crucial role in enhancing domestic defense and in the transformation of government.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who sponsored the original e-government bill, will transfer his post to a new chairman once the Republicans take control of the Senate later this month. Many have speculated that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will become the new chairwoman. Collins spokeswoman Felicia Knight said the committee's agenda still is being developed.

Serafin said that with Collins' background as a staff member for Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), who co-authored the Clinger-Cohen Act, IT issues could receive more play in the committee.

The House also will see a change in committee leadership that deals mainly with IT issues. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) moves from chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy to the chairman of the entire committee. This opens the subcommittee chairmanship, which observers said could be filled by Rep. Ed Schrouck (R-Va.) or someone from outside the subcommittee.

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