Senate confirms EPA CIO; keeps government open until Feb. 15

The Senate finished up a busy final week by confirming the Environmental Protection Agency's new CIO and extending the federal government's fiscal 2006 budget until Feb. 15.

Molly O'Neill, whose nomination has been put on hold since March by Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both from New Jersey, now is EPA's CIO and assistant administrator. She replaces Kim Nelson, who left the agency last December.

The House and Senate also approved a third continuing resolution that will keep agencies spending at the 2006 levels for two more months. When Congress returns Jan. 4 for the 110th Congress and the Democrats take over control of the House and Senate, many of the bills will get another look. So far only two bills ' for the Defense and Homeland Security departments ' have been signed into law, and eight bills have yet to be voted upon by the Senate.

'The spending levels in the CR are way below what most departments can live with,' said Stan Collender, managing director of Qorvis Communications LLC of Washington and a federal budget expert. 'If the Democrats get them to the levels agencies want, the President likely would veto it. There could be a showdown in early February on all this stuff.'

Collender added that the potential of an agency shutdown is more real than in previous years, and the likelihood of a continuing resolution for all of 2007 is small because the Democrats want to make changes to the bills.

'If I were the Democrats, I would send him an omnibus appropriations bill on Feb. 14 at midnight and tell him 'if you want to shut down the government, go for it,'' Collender said. 'I would play a game of chicken with the guy early.'

In addition to O'Neill, the Senate confirmed Paul Schneider to be DHS' undersecretary for management, replacing Janet Hale, who left for the private sector in March. Scott Charbo, DHS' CIO, has been acting undersecretary for management since November.

Schneider was a consultant for the private sector before coming to DHS, and served as an acquisition executive at the National Security Agency and, before that, as principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy.


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