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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

E-Gov at Five Years: A Pivotal Point

When Bush administration officials launched a series of electronic government initiatives in the fall of 2001, they said the projects would fundamentally change government operations through the application of information technology.

Five years later, the results of the effort are mixed. It's still unclear whether the e-gov projects will become institutionalized as core functions of agency operations or be pushed to the wayside in 2009 as political remnants of the Bush administration.

Now, at what administration officials, agency IT managers and observers describe as a pivotal point for e-gov, the Office of Management and Budget is working to secure its future.
The e-government initiative began as a collection of 24 agency projects, including the Health and Human Services Department's Grants.gov project, the General Services Administration's eTravel effort and the Internal Revenue Service's online tax filing system.

The projects were spread across four categories: government-to-citizen, government-to-business, government-to-government and internal efficiencies and effectiveness. Since then, the administration has added an e-authentication portfolio -- including the effort to develop high-tech identity cards to employees and contractors under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 -- and nine "lines of business" initiatives aimed at consolidating agency back-office systems.

OMB has had its share of difficulty selling the e-gov projects in agencies and on Capitol Hill. For example, Congress regularly slashes the administration's request for $45 million for the General Services Administration-managed e-government fund down to $2 million to $3 million. Nevertheless, legislators have appropriated more than $1 billion for e-government initiatives so far.

But now the effort faces its greatest challenge to date, from lawmakers who are less interested in the cultural changes e-gov could bring to federal operations and more concerned about concrete cost savings.

Language in several agency fiscal 2007 appropriations bills would strike financial body blows against e-gov efforts.

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