E-gov fund gets boost in spending bill

Thursday - 12/15/2011, 3:54pm EST

Congress seems to have listened to the good government groups and administration officials on the need to keep the E-Government Fund separate.

Lawmakers have decided not to merge the fund with the Federal Citizen Services Fund. Congress also included a small increase of $4.4 million to a total of $12.4 million for the E-Government Fund in the fiscal 2012 spending bill agreed to by Congress Thursday night. Votes on the bill are expected in both houses of Congress on Friday.

"The funding level and composition is the result of a House and Senate compromise agreement on the program," said Jennifer Hing, the House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman, in an email.

In previous versions of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, the House combined the two funds and allocated $39 million for a new Information and Engagement for Citizens.

The Senate, however, had not merged the two funds.

Gavin Baker, a federal information policy analyst at OMB Watch, said he is pleased with the decision by the House to not merge the funds and to give the E-Government Fund a small bump. He said OMB Watch still is concerned about some of the other anti-transparency provisions included in the bill.

OMB Watch led a vocal opposition against merging and reducing the two funds, writing several letters to members.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, said he was pleased with the decision not to merge the E-Government Fund because it supports the ideal of open government.

"The E-Gov Fund provides a window for citizens to see how the federal government is working and spending their money," he said in a release. "Today's announcement ensures they'll have a clear view for some time. My subcommittee will continue to monitor the work of the E-Gov Fund and to find the necessary resources for proven methods — like the E-Gov Fund — that make our government more transparent and cost-effective."

He said the E-Government Fund and the Federal Citizen Services Fund helps the government communicate with citizens in smarter and more effective way, and also helps agencies figure out ways to use technology better by understanding how to streamline operations by cutting wasteful and duplicative spending.

The Obama administration has received more money for the E-Government Fund in three years than the Bush administration did in eight years. The Obama administration's OMB has used it to promote openness and transparency by creating or improving Data.gov, the IT Dashboard and USASpending.gov, and for consolidation initiatives for things such as data centers and cloud computing.

Congress still requires E-Gov report

In 2011, Congress slashed the E-Government fund by 76 percent, causing OMB to shut down two sites.

The House conference report includes provisions for the Office of Management and Budget to report to Congress before spending any of the money. Two separate provisions continue the congressional oversight of the fund:

  • No funds shall be available for obligation or expenditure for new E-Government initiatives without the explicit approval of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

  • For fiscal 2012, no funds shall be available for transfers or reimbursements to the E-Government initiatives sponsored by OMB prior to 15 days following submission of a report to the House and Senate Appropriations committees by the OMB director and receipt of approval to transfer funds by the committees.

For the last several years, OMB has sent a report to Congress detailing how it spent the E-Government Fund, the benefits the money provided and an agency-by-agency break down on contributions.

The bill also covers several other governmentwide initiatives.

The General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy would receive $69.5 million and can collect up to $17 million from agencies to support the multi-agency CXO councils.

Lawmakers also want GSA to increase its oversight over federal buildings leases and government charge cards.

Vendor tax delinquents beware

The House also wants agencies to consult GSA before entering into any agreement or negotiations to lease new office space or renovate existing offices.

Agencies also would have to evaluate the creditworthiness of an employee before issuing the individual a government travel charge card. The evaluations would include an assessment of the individual's consumer report from a consumer reporting agency.

Lawmakers also want agencies to review vendors more closely. One provision requires agencies to ensure an officer or agent of a vendor, who is acting on behalf of the corporation, is not "convicted of a felony criminal violation under any federal law within the preceding 24 months, where the awarding agency is aware of the conviction, unless the agency has considered suspension or debarment of the corporation, or such officer or agent and made a determination that this further action is not necessary to protect the interests of the government."