More of the same

Our unsurprising election results ensure that the next two years are going to look a
lot like the last two.


What does this mean? For one thing, agency systems people should batten down the
hatches for some rough weather.


If recent congressional persecutions of the Agriculture Department and IRS are any
indication, agencies are in for a wave of hard-nosed oversight of information systems
projects. One Washington lawyer familiar with Hill proclivities predicted the oversight
will be vicious.


It's not hard to see why. Democrats used to call Ronald Reagan the Teflon president
because none of their allegations of scandal could be made to stick. This year, the
Republicans are feeling the same way about Bill Clinton. None of what they see as a litany
of ills had the least apparent effect on the president's popularity. In fact, he gained
ground over the last election.


But one way for Capitol Hill to discredit the administration is to take its
frustrations out on the executive branch agencies.


Not that agency IT activities should be free from oversight. In fact, it might be
argued there's an oversight gap. Members of Congress no doubt are aware that the General
Services Administration is out of the oversight business. And the Office of Management and
Budget is understaffed for the kind of detailed looks that GSA was--in theory, at
least--supposed to provide.


Clearly, there's a void. But it should be filled in a manner that shows a stake in the
outcome.


I sincerely hope the new Hill leaders will refrain from making the bureaucracy a
whipping boy for the president, but I'm not optimistic they will restrain themselves.


There is a bit of good news, though.


Procurement reform and the institutionalization of the Information Technology
Management and Reform Act will proceed apace. True, Sen. Cohen of Maine and Rep. Clinger
of Pennsylvania have retired and there are no clear IT leaders yet to take their places.
But the reforms of the last three years have been largely bipartisan affairs, so it's
unlikely that the new agency freedom will reverse itself to any great degree.


Even if some procurement is found to be abusing the new rules--and many are predicting
this occurrence is inevitable--it's hard to see how that would lead to re-reform without
the Republicans having to repudiate themselves.



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