Lets Fund E-Government

The point of the bill is to make the government more efficient.

If you think your IT budget has problems with, say, a 10 percent cut, look at the federal governments E-Gov initiative, which is now in line to get about 2 percent of the amount initially requested by the Bush administration. Is this any way to run a government more like a business—an e-business in particular?

Late last year, President Bush signed the E-Government Act of 2002 into law, holding forth the vision of Internet-enabled government agencies that would swiftly and efficiently serve their constituents over the Web.

The bill mandates improvements to the federal Internet portal, called First-gov.gov; it requires regulatory agencies to allow public comment via the Internet when making new administrative rules; it allows broad access to information regarding the expenditure of scientific research funds; and it puts in place privacy protections for citizens in government data. The act also calls for the creation of an Office of Electronic Government, including a head of that office, within the Office of Management and Budget.

The price for these benefits was pegged at $45 million—by federal budget standards, not a large sum. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives appropriations committee authorized a laughable $1 million to fund the measure. Youd think that our lawmakers had all read uncritically the famous "IT Doesnt Matter" Harvard Business Review article by Nicholas Carr. But that cant be the case, since there is reportedly $60 billion in IT funding in the federal budget. What gives?

These are difficult economic times, but the point of the bill is not to pamper the taxpayer with convenience; the point is to yield a return on investment by making government more efficient. More efficiency means more savings, which means less expenditures and better use of taxpayers money—even though achieving those goals does require some funds upfront. No, we should not merely throw money—and technology—at the problem of inefficient government. An intelligent, systematic approach is required. For example, some initiatives might require funding for several years and ought not get caught up in budget battles next year.

However, modest funding of $5 million in each of the last two years has, by many accounts, yielded improvements in the federal portal, in e-training and in e-authentication, among other areas.

If theres an issue on which citizens can agree, its that government services can be greatly streamlined through IT. In fact, the measure has strong bipartisan support. Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont., authored the bill, and, of course, President Bush endorsed it with his signature. Legislators should take a hard look at costs and benefits of the measure and then fund it in an amount that will result in better, faster services.

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