Lawmakers optimistic about IT reform, cyber improvements

Thursday - 6/26/2014, 9:37am EDT

The nomination of Shaun Donovan to be director of the Office of Management and Budget and a variety of bills, from federal IT reform and cybersecurity updates to reducing the number of agency reports, crowded the docket of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee business meeting Wednesday.

While there were few surprises, the debate over Donovan's nomination to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget presented some insight into the state of the administration's relationship with a key congressional committee.

Many of the panel Republican members expressed frustration over responses to "questions for the record" from Donovan and the White House after Donovan's nomination hearing in June.

"I would voice in front of the committee that we had the same problem with him as we did with [DHS Secretary] Jeh Johnson," said Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), ranking member of the committee. "I got back seven instances of language to questions for the record that were lifted from the President's budget. I got six that were identical copies to Ms. Burwell's answers to this committee, and I got three instances where it was pasted on to questions for the record that were identical to what he answered to other questions in the record. On today's nomination, I'm not going to vote for him. I'm not going to vote against him today. I want to have a frank conversation, because if you are not paying attention to the answers to this committee, you may not be paying attention when we have you before the committee. I'm really disappointed. This is a measure of management, how you answer questions to Congress, and if you are going to let the legislative-affairs shop paste answers that aren't your answers to questions, what that says is, 'Whatever.' And that's not the Shaun Donovan I know."

Several other Republican committee members echoed Coburn's frustrations with the questions for the record.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the committee, said the White House did resend answers to the questions for the record that included real answers.

Unneeded reports on their way out

These frustrations didn't stop Donovan from passing through this initial hurdle on his way to becoming OMB director. His nomination now moves to the full Senate for debate and vote. Donovan would replace Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who left earlier this month to become the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Aside from the mild drama over the Donovan vote, lawmakers approved major IT and cybersecurity bills, and seemed to be building momentum to finally get rid of hundreds of unneeded federal reports that agencies spend time and money issuing but that few, if anyone, actually reads.

The committee also approved a substitute amendment for the Government Reports Elimination Act of 2014.

The bill would let agencies eliminate 57 reports that are no longer needed, ranging from the DHS report on a "Prohibition on Importation of Products Made With Dog or Cat Fur" to the EPA's Great Lakes "Management Comprehensive Report" to many others.

In fact, OMB yesterday released a new request to get rid of or consolidate 74 additional reports. These suggestions follow OMB's recommendation to consolidate an initial 376 reports it considers redundant.

OMB Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert said in a blog post that Congress has made some progress in reducing the burden on agencies over the last few years, including in 2011 when it agreed to streamline about 75 reports the Defense Department requested to reduce or eliminate.

Cobert said publishing the list of suggested consolidations is part of the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010.

The House passed a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in April.

Along with the reports-elimination act, the Senate committee also approved its version of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act and the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014.

Carper and Coburn sponsored an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the House-passed version of FITARA.

Carper said FITARA would initiate the first major change to the role of CIOs since 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act.

Coburn said the goal is to take a narrow and focused approach around the key issues related to IT reform. He added it will keep agencies moving in the right direction to get better value out of IT.