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Appropriations bill hikes e-government fund

A joint House and Senate 2012 appropriations bill splits apart two funds that promote transparency initiatives, the e-government fund and the Federal Citizen Services Fund, a victory for champions of digital open government.

The conference bill appropriates $12.4 million to the e-government fund, up from $8 million in 2011. That figure appears to be a compromise between a House figure of about $15 million for e-gov and about $6 million in the Senate version. Because the e-gov fund had been combined with the Federal Citizen Services Fund in both chambers it's impossible to provide precise funding levels.

White House officials and transparency advocates had criticized combining the two funds, saying that would water down e-gov's mission of promoting Web-based transparency across government and possibly endanger specific e-gov projects such as Data.gov, a repository for federal data sets, USAspending.gov, which tracks spending trends, and the Federal IT Dashboard, which drills down into information technology spending.

The Federal Citizen Services Fund is a much larger catch-all fund.

Lawmakers slashed the 2011 e-gov appropriation from $34 million to $8 million in April as part of the wrangling to avoid a government shutdown. Transparency groups had advocated raising the fund's 2012 appropriation back to $34 million, but lawmakers never targeted the bill for more than about half that much.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., cheered the higher e-gov funding, saying it "provides a window for citizens to see how the federal government is working and spending their money." Carper is chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management and a longtime e-gov advocate.

Sunlight Foundation policy counsel Daniel Schuman credited Carper and House Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., for championing the higher funding level in a blog post.

There are indications this may not be a final version of the conference bill, but Schuman said he didn't expect e-gov funding levels to change.

OMB Watch Federal Information Policy Analyst Gavin Baker said in an email he was pleased with the funding bump but would have preferred a full restoration of e-gov funding to its 2010 level of $34 million.

The 2002 E-Government Act envisioned annual e-gov appropriations would grow to $150 million by 2006. In reality, the appropriation topped $10 million only once.

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