Eager to make it easier for enterprises to turn over to the government private communications that run over corporate networks, Congress is poised to begin tweaking long-pending legislation that would exempt such communications from public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
A House bill, the Cyber Security Information Act, which gives enterprise data of a cyber-security nature an FOIA carve-out, was introduced in 2000 and revived last July—well before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—but it has been stalled in the chambers judiciary panel over a provision that would protect companies from antitrust liability when sharing private information among themselves.
To get around the logjam, the bills sponsors, Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Jim Moran, D-Va., plan to delete the antitrust liability protection, which would remove the bill from the judiciary committees purview and leave it in the hands of a government reform panel, where it would have a better chance of gaining approval, said an aide to Davis.
Enterprises, including Microsoft Corp. and the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, lobbied hard to include the antitrust liability safeguard in the FOIA exemption initiative, but it may have to be sacrificed to get the FOIA carve-out passed, the aide said. “We cant let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.
Theres no need for enterprises to rush to begin turning over private data, however, because the measure is not at the forefront of the Senates agenda, even if it passes the House this summer, as sponsors expect. A Senate counterpart, sponsored by Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., faces considerably steeper opposition, said House and Senate staffers.
Most technology-related measures moving through Congress this session have been given a homeland security facet, which is not surprising given that security initiatives account for the largest increase in expenditures in the federal budget.
“We are going to be spending more money than any time since the 80s defense boom,” Davis said, upon unveiling a proposal last week to spur faster and more thorough IT innovation to promote improved network and infrastructure security. The draft bill attempts to speed the process that technology companies typically endure in efforts to contract with the government.
“Since [Sept. 11], the government, in general, and the Office of Homeland Security, in particular, have been overwhelmed by a flood of industry proposals offering various solutions to our homeland security challenges,” Davis said. “Because of a lack of staffing expertise, many of these proposals have been sitting unevaluated, perhaps denying the government the breakthrough technology it needs.”
The bill, introduced last Wednesday, would create a federal interagency team of subject-matter experts to screen and evaluate innovation proposals. It would set up an awards program to finance the research and development of innovative ideas that are not necessarily ready for a government contract. It would also establish a rapid acquisition pilot program to train federal agencies to buy commercial, off-the-shelf products.