OMB to Congress: Information access improving

The fifth annual e-government report details progress on several data-sharing initiatives.

The Office of Management and Budget’s fifth annual report to Congress on agencies’ progress toward implementing the E-Government Act of 2002 is the second report sent to lawmakers in less than a month trying to explain why citizen-centered and customer-focused technology matters. But what is different about this 43-page document is the spotlight on agency progress toward disseminating information to people and within government. OMB chose to highlight several information-sharing successes, including improvements to, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act Web portal, and ensuring online public access to federal records. The report comes as Congress is reauthorizing several provisions in the E-Government Act. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing in December, but has not moved the bill out of committee. Meanwhile, no lawmaker in the House has introduced a companion bill. The reauthorization bill focuses heavily on making federal services and information more accessible by the public. “The administration continues to make real progress leveraging information technology investments to provide citizen-focused improvements in key areas such as training, benefits and grants,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), one of the authors of the original bill. “E-government has improved management, savings and efficiency in a wide range of government programs. Now, Congress needs to act with the same efficiency and reauthorize the E-Government Act this year.”OMB’s most recent report, released March 1, states that agency efforts to implement the E-Government Act are resulting in more transparency and effective operations with an increased ability to manage systems’ risks and protect data. The administration also issued another report Feb. 14 that found governmentwide savings of $508 million in 2007 from e-government projects. This was the first time OMB separated the two reports — one on spending and one on progress toward implementing the act. “The goal of this report is to ensure we have a mutual understanding about the benefits of e-government between the legislative and executive branch,” said Tim Young, OMB’s deputy administrator for e-government and IT, during a briefing with reporters about the savings report. The progress report includes little about money, except for how OMB spent the E-Government Fund in 2007. Most went to agencies running the Lines of Business initiatives. OMB said it gave more than $2 million on the LOB efforts, while $500,000 went toward developing and monitoring cost-savings efforts and $470,000 went for monitoring performance results. For the first time, in 2007, OMB also handed out money left over from previous fiscal years. For instance, officials said $386,343 went for architecture development for the LOBs, $400,000 went for FFATA, another $448,555 went for work on the Geospatial, IT Infrastructure and Budget Formulation LOBs and $696,000 to support how many of the initiatives determine cost savings. As for making information more accessible, OMB highlighted’s new search tools on jobs, weather, congressional contact information, federal forms and frequently asked questions from more than 40 agencies. The report states that the portal also expanded its search functions and added nine online tutorials in December to teach users how to use the site. Under FFATA, OMB said 21 agencies that make up about 90 percent of all federal contracts, grants and loans submitted their data to the Web portal, which the administration launched in December. “Some remaining challenges include incorporating business information already collected, but not required by the statute, such as competition information and actions below the dollar threshold,” the report states. The report also states that the Nation al Archives and Records Administration worked with agencies in 2007 to schedule records from more than 1,000 systems. “To focus resources where they are most needed, NARA staff developed criteria for targeting certain agencies to partner with to schedule their e-records and systems,” the reports states. “These criteria were based on requests from an agency for assistance, the importance of their systems to mission critical activities, and an agency-submitted inventory of systems still unscheduled.” One example of success OMB points to in the report is NARA working with the Interior and Treasury departments and the Environmental Protection Agency to test how to implement the records management profile under the federal enterprise architecture. In addition to information dissemination, OMB reported progress on IT project management and IT workforce improvements. OMB said in the 2009 budget submission to Congress 88 percent of all major IT investments had a qualified project manager, up from 83 percent in the 2008 submission. The administration reported that the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin agreed to the first IT Exchange Program memorandum of understanding. After nearly five years, the Office of Personnel Management finalized the regulations, enabling DOD’s chief information officer’s office to accept a Lockheed Martin employee for one year. The exchange program is one of the sections of the bill that Congress needs to reauthorize. Finally, OMB detailed the Homeland Security Department’s work on the Disaster Management and Safecom projects as well as every agency’s work on different e-government and LOB initiatives.

“OMB’s e-government report once again demonstrates the substantial cost savings that can be realized by the effective leveraging of information technology by the federal government,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “In addition, these programs make it easier for all Americans to file their tax returns, comment on proposed regulations, and generally participate in the workings of their government.  It is for these reasons that Senator Lieberman and I introduced the E-Government Reauthorization Act, which will ensure that the federal government continues to improve its ability to use this technology.”

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