Lawmakers eye reforms for state IT grants

Federal lawmakers are moving to streamline the approval process for grants to allow states more flexibility to spend money on information technology infrastructure that supports programs across multiple agencies.

In a July 9 hearing before the House Government Reform subcommittee on technology and procurement policy, lawmakers heard a mix of opinions from government and industry experts familiar with the process.

Although the consensus among experts was that changes to the grant administration process should be made, the opinions varied widely on the amount of reform necessary.

The hearing uncovered some glaring problems with the federal IT grants process that must be addressed, said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the subcommittee's chairman. He asked those who testified to submit draft language within 10 days that the subcommittee could use as a starting point for legislative action.

The federal government provides more than $2 billion in grants each year to support a variety of state programs, including Medicaid, child support enforcement, food stamps and juvenile justice. State chief information officers have voiced concern that restrictions on how federal funds are spent inhibit their ability to coordinate related functions across departments or agencies.

David McClure, the General Accounting Office's director of IT management issues, said efforts over the last two years by federal agencies to improve the process on their own have stalled because of differences of opinion among the agencies involved.

Aldona Valicente, Kentucky's CIO, said Congress should provide statutory relief to restructure the advanced planning document process and streamline the cost-allocation process.

Larry Singer, Georgia's CIO, said the review of IT expenditures associated with federal programs should become part of the review of the program itself rather than subject to a separate review.

He also called for the elimination of restrictions on cross-program uses of federal funds when IT program systems share integrated networks and architectures. Restrictions against using federal funds to purchase proprietary applications and systems development also should be eliminated, he said.

In most cases, agencies responded to states' IT planning and acquisition within 60 days, as required by law, McClure said. Not all of the fault lies with federal agencies, either. State officials can help improve the process by being more consistent in the information they submit to federal agencies when requesting IT grants, he said.

Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., questioned the very idea of having federal agencies conducting detailed review of state IT plans.

"Federal agencies have had disastrous results upgrading and modernizing IT systems, so having them review state plans seems an interesting proposition," he said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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