Budget cuts shutter two open gov sites, others impacted

Tuesday - 5/24/2011, 2:37pm EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Office of Management and Budget will terminate FedSpace and the Citizen Services Dashboard initiatives, and slow down the development of every other project paid for through the E-Government Fund.

Sources confirmed that OMB detailed its plan in a letter to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) sent today. Carper sent a letter April 25 asking OMB for information on how it will keep several open government sites running with the reduced E-Government Fund.

"While we believe that we can make progress on several important initiatives, several projects will experience a sharp decline given the limited amount of funding," wrote Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, in the letter obtained by Federal News Radio. "No project will go unaffected."

Congress slashed the E-Government Fund by 76 percent to $8 million in 2011, leading to OMB making decisions on the future of about seven major administration open government projects and the FedRAMP cybersecurity initiative.

Federal News Radio first reported in March the effect the decrease in funding would have on sites, including data.gov, USAspending.gov, the IT Dashboard and several others.

The White House negotiated an increase in funding to $8 million from $2 million the House initially proposed. But it's still a significant cut from the $35 million request.

"It is a prudent decision to keep as many of the E-Gov Fund websites operational as possible," Carper said in a release. "These websites are an important resource and a critical part of the effort to make the government more open and transparent, while at the same time, cutting wasteful and duplicative spending throughout federal agencies."

OMB initially thought it may have to turn off several of the projects, but instead decided it can keep most of the programs going and only have to terminate two:

  • FedSpace is a collaboration platform for federal employees to share information and develop a community to solve problems. The General Services Administration runs FedSpace, but it was only in beta testing.

  • The Citizen Services Dashboard was expected to provide information about the quality of federal services, including timeliness, accuracy and customer satisfaction, to citizens. OMB hoped to add other services including using data to inform agency decisions making.
Kundra wrote the other programs will not receive updates or enhanced functionalities as planned.

"We will maintain important initiatives such as USAspending.gov, the IT Dashboard, Data.gov and Performance.gov at their current levels of operation," Kundra wrote. "While we will continue to work with agencies to improve the quality of data on the IT Dashboard and USASpending, we will not be able to fund development efforts to improve data accuracy through automation and streamlining, nor will funds be available to increase transparency."

One example of a planned upgrade that will not happen is for the IT Dashboard. Kundra said OMB will postpone plans to integrate the portal with agency systems for investment monitoring.

Data.gov also will not get new datasets posted as quickly as expected nor will OMB stand up new communities to improve information sharing and integration.

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), which President Obama co-sponsored when he was in the Senate, will be affected significantly by the reduced funding.

"[T] here will be a marked reduction in technical support provided to the contractor and grantee communities who enter data on Federal spending into the FFATA portal," Kundra wrote.

Kundra didn't say in the letter if OMB asked agencies for funding to help maintain these open government programs. A request to OMB for how the current projects will be funded was not immediately returned.

"At a time when government needs to look in every nook and cranny to cut spending and find savings, we can't afford to end a powerful tool like the E-Gov Fund," Carper said. "One possible solution may be to identify opportunities for us to consolidate the functionality of these sites to not only cut costs but make them more user-friendly. I will continue to monitor the work of the E-Gov Fund and work with my colleagues in Congress and the administration to find the necessary resources for proven methods - like the E-Gov Fund -- that make the government more transparent and cost-effective."

Carper has been one of the more vocal lawmakers about the impact of federal technology. He recently asked Jeff Zients, OMB's deputy director for management, for an update on the plans.

Read OMB's full letter to Sen. Carper here.

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