OMB prepares for open gov sites to go dark in May

Thursday - 3/31/2011, 4:46pm EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Many of the Obama administration's top open government initiatives are set to be turned off by May 31.

Government sources confirm that the Office of Management and Budget is planning to take seven websites dark in two months because of a lack of funding.

One government official, who requested anonymity because they didn't get permission to discuss the topic, said funding will begin to run out on April 20 for public sites IT Dashboard, Data.gov and paymentaccuracy.gov. The source said OMB also is planning on shutting down internal government sites, including Performance.gov, FedSpace and many of the efforts related the FEDRamp cloud computing cybersecurity effort.

The official said two other sites, USASpending.gov and Apps.gov/now, will run through July 30 but go dark soon after.

"We need at least another $4 million just to keep USASpending.gov operating this year," the official said. "We are looking at a pass-the-hat approach, but it could be challenging to get that done in time."

The White House requested $35 million for the e-government fund in 2011. The House allocated only $2 million in its bill, H.R. 1. The Senate, meanwhile, would provide $20 million for the e-government fund.

"The continuing resolution says we can only spend what we would reasonably expect to get during the fiscal year, and we have no reasonable expectation to get more than a couple of millions of dollars," the source said.

OMB and the General Services Administration, which manages the e-gov fund, already spent $1.63 million last fall on the recipient reporting feature of USASpending.gov.

OMB and GSA now can only spend $370,000 the rest of the year on these initiatives.

A request to OMB for comment on the sites going dark was not returned.

Proposed cuts to e-gov despite cost-savings

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said recently that the IT Dashboard has helped save the government $3 billion on IT projects.

"Using this important tool, we identified underperforming high priority IT projects and began an intensive review of these programs, eliminating ineffective projects, reconfiguring others, and targeting IT expenditures more carefully," he said in a video promoting the IT Dashboard's benefits.

The lack of House support for e-government also doesn't bode well for the administration's $50 million request for the Integrated, Efficient, and Effective Uses of Information Technology (IEEUIT) program. The Senate approved $40 million in its version of the 2011 spending bill. The House doesn't discuss this fund specifically.

Kundra said in a March 17 hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government that the IEEUIT fund is devoted on cracking down on duplicative systems and increasing the number of large scale IT projects they are reviewing.

Kundra announced Thursday that OMB is moving to an open source model for the IT Dashboard and for the TechStat toolkit. Kundra did not say if the budget was part of the reason for the move-only that he wants to tap into the collective ideas to improve both tools and other governments want to implement these processes.

"The detrimental effect of HR 1 on so many areas of government is clear—and perhaps no more so than on the efforts to ensure the government's IT infrastructure upgrades are proceeding on schedule and on budget," said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. "We cannot have a more streamlined, efficient and open government without using the best technology available. Unfortunately the cuts in H.R. 1 to e-government fund will have the unintended consequence of making government less accountable and transparent."

Requests for comment to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee were not returned.

Pro-transparency groups fight cuts

Several industry and good government groups have been trying to drum up support for these e-government initiatives.

The Sunlight Foundation sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators as well as each chamber's leadership explaining why these programs are so important.

"Basically what the letter says is this is the way to find out what's going on in Congress, this is the way to find out where tax dollars going and this way to figure out what the government is doing," said Daniel Schuman, a policy counsel with Sunlight, during an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose Wednesday.

He said that if the sites go dark, the data will eventually go out of date and the efforts to clean up and make the information more useful also will stop.