Senate power swap doesn't shake federal IT issues

Senate power swap doesn't shake federal IT issues


The Senate's unprecedented flip last month, which left Democrats in power, will likely have little or no effect on most information technology issues affecting federal workers.

The change came after Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords switched parties, giving up his Republican mantle to become an independent. The move gave Democrats a one-vote majority in the previously divided Senate.

But the change seems likely to have little affect on the workings of the committee with the most oversight of federal IT, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who took over as chairman, acknowledged that he and Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), the former Republican chairman, enjoy a close working relationship.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's e-government bill includes a provision calling for the creation of a federal chief information officer with a hefty budget to oversee governmentwide projects.
Lieberman did suggest, however, that the power swap is a boon for his electronic-government bill, S 803. Both senators have spoken of the need for the government to use IT to get control of its more troublesome problems, such as a continued failure to meet mandated financial management goals.

Thompson, however, has not signed on as a co-sponsor of Lieberman's bill, as has Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Had he remained in charge of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Thompson could have slowed the bill's progress by failing to schedule it for hearings and refusing to send it to the floor for a vote.

The e-government bill, a far-ranging take on how the government should embrace the digital era, includes a provision calling for the creation of a federal chief information officer with a hefty budget to oversee governmentwide projects.

The Bush administration has yet to decide on whether the government needs an IT czar, but Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, told a gathering of lawmakers previously that the work of such an official already is under OMB's aegis.

Thompson could have used his power to stymie the bill, which Lieberman wrote without consulting OMB or the administration, a Lieberman spokeswoman said.

As chairman, Lieberman can shepherd the bill through a committee hearing and markup, and almost ensure it goes to the Senate floor for a vote, she said.

The power change in other committees could also affect technology legislation, but most of those bills deal with private-sector issues.

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, formerly led by McCain, still plans to hold hearings on privacy and technology, a senior McCain staff member said. None of the issues will affect federal workers unless the committee holds hearings with an eye to setting standards, the McCain aide said. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) is the committee's new chairman.

In another major power change, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) took over the Armed Services Committee, pushing longtime chairman Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) into the ranking member's seat.


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