Congress likes e-gov idea but not the cost

Congress made it clear that it supports e-government'in theory'when it authorized $45 million for the E-Government Fund in fiscal 2003. But when it came time to put up or shut up, lawmakers were mostly silent, appropriating just $5 million this year.

Both House and Senate versions of the civilian omnibus spending bills sent this month to the House and Senate Appropriations conference committee included that amount for the Office of Management and Budget's E-Government Fund. Just two months earlier in the E-Government Act of 2002, Congress had authorized $40 million more.

The shortfall severely hampers the Bush administration's plan to allocate $100 million to e-government projects over a three-year period that began with fiscal 2002.

'The E-Government Act sent a clear message to agencies and citizens that we care about improving access to services and information,' said David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), co-sponsor of the bill. 'The funds we authorized reflected the need to overcome stovepipes through cross-agency cooperation and the need for more effective leadership and management. Five million dollars won't meet those needs.'

Both houses passed the consolidated appropriations bill Feb. 13. Eight continuing resolutions had kept the government open during the first four months of fiscal 2003. The bill now will be sent to the president to sign into law.

This is the second year appropriators stinted OMB on the cross-agency fund. Last year, Congress also allocated $5 million to OMB for use on its 25 Quicksilver projects. The White House, which requested a $20 million fund for 2002, used the money to give four e-government projects between $740,000 and $2 million each. OMB also allotted the FirstGov program $400,000 and spent $100,000 on change management support.

The 2003 budget also marks the second year the administration did not put its weight behind the fund.

John Scofield, a House Appropriations Committee spokesman, said there was no late push by the White House to restore the $40 million.

'It was not well-justified. It was duplicative, and we had scarce resources,' Scofield said in explaining why Congress did not allot more money to the fund.

Other highly visible IT projects did receive significant funding. The Immigration and Naturalization Service's National Security Entry-Exit Registration System received its full request of $362 million.

Congress allocated $313 million for the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment project and $366 million for IRS modernization.

The Justice Department received $45 million more than its $170 million request to continue to modernize the FBI's IT infrastructure and bolster counterterrorism capabilities.

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