E-gov cuts could endanger digital transparency initiatives, groups say

Two transparency groups urged senators Wednesday not to combine the e-government fund with the Federal Citizen Services Fund, both of which pay for government transparency initiatives.

The letter from OMB Watch and the Sunlight Foundation follows a similar White House request in a Statement of Administration Policy sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Nov. 10.

The White House and the transparency groups also asked senators to maintain adequate funding for e-gov.

The White House didn't specify how much funding they would like the e-gov fund to receive. The transparency groups asked senators to restore President Obama's original budget request of $34 million.

The 2002 E-Government Act envisioned annual appropriations for the fund would grow to $150 million by 2006. In reality, the appropriation topped $10 million only once -- in 2010. and That $34 million appropriation helped support a slew of open government initiatives, including Data.gov, a repository for federal data sets, and the Federal IT Dashboard.

Legislators slashed the e-gov fund to $8 million in April as part of the wrangling to avoid a government shutdown. House lawmakers later added some money back to the combined fund, but early Senate versions of the appropriations bill cut it down further.

"At a time when Congress is scrounging for every last penny, it would be counterproductive to cut short the very tools that shed light on federal spending and performance," OMB Watch said in a blog post following the letter.

The e-gov and citizen services funds have broadly similar missions. Combining the two, however, would weaken e-gov's mandate and possibly endanger funding for specific e-gov projects, the transparency groups said.

"We're concerned that the new account will be less transparent than the e-gov fund, which has specific reporting requirements under the E-Government Act," OMB Watch analyst Gavin Baker said. "As a result, we'd know less about how the funds are being spent and what they're achieving . . . And [it would] be less apparent if [the General Services Administration] shifted its investments away from transparency projects."