Senate bill backs OPM modernization

Appropriations bill restores critical funding for retirement system, grants total E-Gov Fund request

After suffering some significant setbacks in the House, the administration's IT initiatives have won a few small victories in a Senate appropriations bill.

Senate lawmakers restored funding for a major retirement systems upgrade that the House zeroed out, and offered some encouraging words for the E-Government program overall after other committees repeatedly blasted the initiatives.

Although congressional appropriators overall still have serious concerns about the e-government initiatives [GCN, July 24, Page 1], the language in the fiscal 2007 Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary and related agencies appropriations bill expressed cautious support for the cross-agency initiatives.

For instance, the bill, which the Senate Appropriations Committee passed July 20, would give the Office of Personnel Management complete funding for its Retirement Systems Modernization project'a program the House lawmakers gutted in its version of the same bill.

Senate appropriators lauded RSM but required the Government Accountability Office to perform a comprehensive review of the project, noting that it has suffered fits and starts since OPM first considered overhauling its paper-based retirement management system in 1997.

OPM officials were thrilled that the Senate Appropriations Committee restored the funding, and pushed House lawmakers to keep the money in place when a conference committee convenes to iron out differences between the two bills.

'This represents significant progress,' said OPM director Linda Springer.

OPM has already awarded two contracts for the project, which the agency hopes will revolutionize how the government tracks, maintains and processes retirement information for its employees.

John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said it was too early to comment on whether the House would support restoring the funding, because the bill has yet to pass the full Senate.

The Senate bill would fully grant the Office of Management and Budget's $5 million request for the E-Government Fund. Legislators also said they would let OMB use some of the money to reward project management teams whose programs best met customer needs.

Senate appropriators particularly praised the E-Travel system, although they shared familiar concerns over ways to enhance the participation of small businesses. The bill would direct the General Services Administration to ensure that at least 23 percent of the E-Travel contracted dollars be granted to small businesses.

The funding would not come without restrictions, though, as it would require agencies to seek permission from congressional appropriators before transferring any funds for e-government programs.

In a Statement of Administration Policy the White House issued for the House version, it said it objects to requirements that the House and Senate Appropriations committees approve all transfers of funds for E-Government initiatives. The administration said this requirement 'slows down and sometimes blocks important e-government initiatives.'

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