Horn Sounds for Dividing OMB

Congressman Claims Move Will Help Foster Fed IT, But Bill Gets Lukewarm Response

Rep. Steve Horn

A House lawmaker wants to improve the government's management of its computer systems and networks by splitting the Office of Management and Budget into two separate departments, one for management and another for budgeting.

The legislation proposed by Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., is garnering only lukewarm support from high-tech industry officials, who warn that much more must be done to bolster the government's use of information technology.

OMB has broad authority in carrying out its mission to assist the president in preparing the federal budget and supervising the administration of federal agencies. But Horn contends that OMB's responsibilities are so extensive, it is unable to ensure effective management of government programs and operations.

"The American taxpayer deserves a lot more from the executive branch than it has received," Horn, chairman of the newly created House subcommittee on government efficiency, financial management and intergovernmental relations, said Feb. 14. "Good management can and should save the taxpayers billions of dollars each year."

Horn, who has chaired numerous hearings on large-scale government technology initiatives, said he continues to see evidence of poor management decisions in the government, including unsuccessful attempts by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service to modernize their outdated computer systems. The programs cost taxpayers nearly $9 billion before they were aborted, he said.

Horn's bill, introduced Feb. 14, would split Office of Management and Budget into two distinct offices: an Office of Management and an Office of Budget. The Office of Management would be responsible for individual management practices, federal agencies and governmentwide management issues. The Office of Budget would deal solely with budgetary issues. Each would have a director reporting to the president.

There is no counterpart bill in the Senate, and Horn failed in previous years to garner support for this legislation.

Simultaneous with this debate, separate legislation in the House and Senate to create a federal government chief information officer within OMB may be getting more attention as a better starting point. The Bush administration and many industry officials support creating a CIO, expecting the position will raise the profile of IT issues and business within government.

Horn agreed there is a need to strengthen the president's staff in IT. "But we have an even greater need to have an integrated approach to management improvement," he said. "The desperate need to improve the government's financial management can be pursued meaningfully only in concert with information technology."

Horn said better management could have helped avert the year 2000 date-change crisis and that a group of management-oriented professionals could monitor and help find solutions to problems before they become costly burdens to taxpayers.

Some in the IT arena think the government needs more than top-level management structural changes to achieve its IT goals. The IT expertise that filters down throughout the federal agencies on all levels must be bolstered, according to Jason Mahler, vice president and general counsel for the Computer & Communications Industry Association.

The government's biggest problem is hiring and keeping qualified employees who can take on very specific IT jobs, maintain computer networks and keep the government ahead technologically, Mahler said.

While the top-level management initiatives like Horn's bill may be a start, the government needs to maintain a high-tech work force, and that cannot be done until the federal pay schedules are adjusted, he said.

For example, under the existing pay scales, a government IT professional would be paid much less than in private industry because the government's system does not classify the position as supervisory or managerial, he said.

Some of the agencies have found creative ways to form titles and get around this problem from a management level, but more needs to be done, Mahler said.

"It's tough for the federal government to have top-notch computer networks for an agency when it can't maintain the workers," he said.

Despite calls by Horn and others to overhaul the federal government's computer capabilities, high-tech firms are skeptical about how much new business will actually materialize from these legislative initiatives.

"We stand ready to help modernize with the latest technology and equipment, and we encourage any initiative to keep the government ahead," Mahler said. "Obviously, there are portions of the government that are sorely lacking. We need to have the expertise and know-how to go about doing that."

The procurement process is one key governmentwide management problem, Mahler said. Because of poor structures, many agencies get locked into continually purchasing one specific type of technology when it may not always be the best solution, he said.

"We've encouraged agencies to look at other kinds of technologies, software, products," he said. "A lot of purchasing people in the government get locked into technologies."

Many IT professionals believe the creation of the CIO within OMB will raise the visibility of IT and push the acceptance of an electronic government across the federal agencies, said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America, Arlington, Va.

Reps. Jim Turner, D-Texas, and Tom Davis, R-Va., have introduced legislation to create the CIO, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is working on similar legislation in the Senate.

"That alone will help raise the visibility of management and the role IT plays in the transformation of electronic government," Grkavac said. "A CIO would bring in high-tech leadership and cutting-edge technology."

The new political appointees joining the administration also will be more versed in using the Internet and Web applications, which will foster the spread and acceptance of information technologies, she said.

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