OMB, non-profits urge Senate to keep E-Gov whole

Wednesday - 11/16/2011, 2:16pm EST

The White House and openness and transparency groups are pressing the Senate not to approve the consolidation of two technology funds in the mini-bus bill the upper chamber is considering this week.

The Office of Management and Budget issued a Statement of Administration Policy recommending the E-Government Fund and the Federal Citizen Services Fund not be merged, and for lawmakers to allocate "adequate funding" for each.

"The E-Government Fund has yielded billions in cost savings and cost avoidance over the last two years," the statement said. "Combining the E-Government and Federal Citizen Services funds would introduce a level of uncertainty around how the funds would be allocated given the differing mandates of the funds. Furthermore, a new fund would not be subject to the Electronic Government Act of 2002."

The Sunlight Foundation and OMBWatch followed with a letter today to senators urging them to protect the E-Gov Fund because it "provide[s] critical support for the construction of a more transparent and efficient government and serve as a building block for private-sector innovations that create high-tech jobs."

"The E-Gov Fund has a proven track record of successful transparency projects that have delivered efficiency improvements and increased government accountability," the two groups wrote.

The groups also urged lawmakers to restore full funding to the E-Government Fund.

Congress approved $7.9 million for the E-Gov Fund and $34.1 million for the Citizen Services Fund in 2011. For 2012, the Senate wants to combine the two and give the new Information and Engagement for Citizens account $39 million.

"While these funds were created at different periods of time and developed different programs, they share a common objectiveómaking it easier for citizens to understand and interact with their government," the committee wrote in its report of the bill. "The purpose of this new office is to provide electronic or other methods of providing access and understanding of federal information, benefits, and services to citizens, businesses, other governments, and the media."

A committee spokesman wrote in an e-mail to Federal News Radio, "While we would like to have provided more funding, reduced allocations due to domestic discretionary spending cuts have necessitated many difficult decisions."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the author of the 2003 E-Government Act, which created the fund, said in a September interview with Federal News Radio that the consolidation of the funds doesn't concern him because the goals of the funds seem to be related.

"I'm concerned about the cut in funding," he said. "It will hamper the effectiveness of programs that really return much more in citizen access, citizen awareness and confidence in government than they cost."

Dave McClure, the associate administrator in the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, told a House committee in September the cut in funding will have a negative effect on the projects that the E-Government fund supports such as Data.gov, the IT Dashboard and many others.

"When anyone gets less money than requested something has got to give," McClure said. "So that's our challenge, we are trying to use this fund to fuel innovation, to do cross agency governmentwide work, not single agency work, this is not GSA money. If we reduce funding levels down to those levels you will have operations and maintenance work going on existing projects rather than fueling new, creative ways to save money for the government."

Sunlight and OMBWatch too are concerned about the cuts.

In the letter, the two groups the 76 percent cut the E-Government Fund faced in 2011, as compared to its 2010 funding level, has caused problems.

"Needed upgrades to increase transparency and improve data quality have been delayed or abandoned, and two early-stage projects have been terminated. Additional cuts will further hamper efforts to make government more efficient and transparent," the letter stated. "These cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish. The E-Gov Fund supports powerful tools for reducing waste, fraud, and abuse and for creating private-sector jobs, and given appropriate funding, these projects result in benefits far in excess of their costs."

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