White House, Congress look to stretch e-gov dollars

John Sindelar of GSA said a working capital fund the agency has proposed would give OMB more flexibility.

(Washington Technology photo by Henrik G. de Gyor)

Government officials are optimistic Congress will approve the president's request for a $45 million e-government fund in the fiscal 2003 budget this fall.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on technology and procurement policy, said the president's request is "a bottom, not a ceiling" on the amount that will be approved.

Like this year, the e-government fund will be spent on cross-agency initiatives, said Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government for the Office of Management and Budget. And as the administration goes through the fiscal 2004 budget process, some new initiatives may be identified in addition to the 24 cross-agency initiatives overseen by OMB, he said.

For fiscal 2002, President Bush requested $20 million for the new fund, but only $5 million was approved. Even so, e-government initiatives marched forward, funded either by individual agency appropriations or by agencies contributing money or other resources to a common pot.

Many in industry don't think it's enough. "We need more money, and I think Congress recognizes that," said Ken Salaets, director of governmental relations for the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group in Washington. "They are appropriating dollars and creating flexibility that enables agencies to move money around."

It's not easy redirecting funds, however, said Lew Sanford, e-gov program office manager at the General Services Administration. Several barriers can prevent it: policy, legislation or lack of cross-agency cooperation, he said.

GSA successfully competed for a portion of this year's e-government fund, received additional money from the Procurement Executive Council and has contributed its own money to cross-agency e-gov projects, Sanford said. Most of its partner agencies have contributed personnel or products they developed.

This summer, GSA is investigating whether all the resources for a cross-agency initiative, including staff and money, can be redirected to the managing agency, Sanford said.

"OMB is trying to create an environment where we do that across all agencies," he said. "That is a tall order."

GSA has proposed one new funding mechanism to OMB: a governmentwide working capital fund, said John Sindelar, deputy associate administrator in the agency's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

Partners in cross-agency initiatives could contribute to the fund, and the money could be carried over from year to year if authorized, creating more flexibility, he said.

OMB is reviewing the proposal, Forman said. "There is nothing stopping agencies from pooling their money and hiring a buying agent. It's an interesting proposal," he said.

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