Thursday, December 20, 2012
This week, several events and stories have marked 10 years since the E-Government Act was signed into law on Dec 17, 2012. Looking back, the statute shows what can come from a bipartisan, bicameral process around achieving a common set of goals;

I had the privilege this week of reuniting with several key players who made the finalization and passage of the E-Government Act of 2002 a reality.  The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) hosted the forum, structuring the discussions in two panels: the first on what brought the statute together, the second on where the Act can continue to help as the government moves forward with leveraging innovation, “big data,” and similar advances.  Consistent with the forum’s structure, here are a few observations in each category.

The Origins

The E-Gov Act was the product of a lot of hard work, and some luck in the legislative calendar as well.  Ever since the Clinger Cohen Act passed in 1996, Congress reexamined and introduced various bills to establish a Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) in the White House (generally in OMB).  At the same time, e-government was beginning to take root among agencies and stakeholders.  Key initiatives included:

  • The Clinton Administration’s release of the FirstGov website (now www.usa.gov) was the first major cross-agency e-government initiative.
  • The Federal CIO Council (www.cio,gov) established an E-Government Committee around the same time.
  • The Council for Excellence in Government held a series of roundtables on the subject, leading to a widely read and influential report entitled “E-Government:  The Next American Revolution.”

A number of the ideas coming from these and similar initiatives were pulled together by Senator Joe Lieberman as Chair of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, whose staff – principally Kevin Landy – drafted and introduced an initial E-Gov bill that codified a number of existing activities, introduced new ideas, and combined them with a Federal CIO in OMB.  At the same time, the incoming Bush Administration advanced work that had been raised during the campaign, and created a new political appointee in OMB – Mark Forman, as the “Associate Director for IT and E-Government” – to lead an e-gov agenda.  That agenda also reviewed existing activities and ideas, and resulted in the introduction of 24 Presidential “Quicksilver” E-Government initiatives in the summer of 2001.

OMB leadership at the time, led by Deputy Director Sean O’Keefe, wanted to be supportive of congressional action on e-government, and also wanted any legislation to incorporate Administration priorities.  O’Keefe asked me, as the career SES in charge of IT policy and budgeting, to lead the staff-level negotiations for the Administration.  Also at the table were the Senate Government Affairs ranking member Fred Thompson’s staff (Robert Shea, later a Bush Administration appointee at OMB) and GAO’s IT policy lead (Dave McClure, now the GSA Administrator for Citizen Service and Innovative Technologies).

What transpired over the next several months would take a long time to recount in detail ... In essence, Hill staff, advocates and agencies communicated views to the parties, who worked through a series of issues involving data, privacy, information policy, and technology.  A major sticking point was whether to include the Federal CIO or not – in the end, the Senate and the Administration agreed to codify the OMB Associate Director position as a Presidentially appointed but not Senate-confirmed position of Administrator for the Office of E-Government.  That status remains today, with the statutory OMB E-Gov office headed by Steve VanRoekel, who succeeded Vivek Kundra and carries the additional title of Federal CIO.  The Federal CIO Council was similarly codified and remains in place.

In addition, the Senate bill put in place two key policy cornerstones that support many of the data and innovation efforts now and in the future.  Those efforts are the information policy framework in Section 207 of the Act, and the privacy provisions in Section 208.  Without a strong policy and privacy foundation in place, the government’s innovative efforts around data.gov and now “Big Data” would not be well-supported over the long term.

But even with these provisions in place, passing the Senate – while a major step forward – was only a first step.  The House had to concur, led by Rep Tom Davis as Chair of the key House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee.  House priorities focused on security and acquisition:

  • The security priority was based on the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), which updated the Computer Security Act of 1987 – and still stands as the major cybersecurity legislation for nonclassified Federal systems.
  • The acquisition priorities included Share in Savings, the ability of States to buy IT products and services from GSA Schedules, and an executive exchange program between government and industry.

Through a set of discussions in through the end of 2001 and into 2002, Congress and the Administration put together a comprehensive bill that included priorities for all 3 parties – which in the end also integrated a long-sought after statistical confidentiality bill, further cementing the importance of privacy in the overall legislation. 

All of this effort would have been for naught, however, if not for the fact that other priorities dictated a “lame duck” session of Congress that allowed time for the House and the Senate to move the bill through final enactment – leading to the Presidential signing of Dec 17, 2002.  Even this date was negotiated, because at the time there were two other bills that included updates to FISMA, and by signing the E-Gov Act last this “complete” FISMA superseded those provisions.

Looking Forward

The story of the E-Gov Act shows how a committed effort across agencies, committees, chambers of Congress, and branches of government, can lead to a positive and lasting result.  With regard to the sustainability of the statute, the efforts that followed -- from the Lines of Business and identity management efforts of the Bush Administration to the Cloud Computing, Digital Government, Innovation, and Big Data initiatives led by President Obama’s technology team – have benefitted from the dedicated governance structure under the law, the information policy framework that promotes data integration, and the joining of security and privacy with technology in a common statute.

It is also important to note that the industry partners who work with government can look at the E-Gov Act as a whole and understand how their contributions fit – including through some of the acquisition provisions added toward the end of the process, as well as how best to focus further innovative efforts like cloud and analytics.  The Federal CIO Council continues to move forward as well, providing useful guidance in a number of related areas; just last week the CIO Council released a relevant report on digital privacy.

The current legislative agenda also includes bills that would further update the IT framework in which agencies operate, such as a bill that would cement CIO roles as well as provisions of potential cybersecurity legislation.  All of this, as well as the significant innovation, information, and IT agenda of the Administration, builds on the framework of the E-Gov Act, which itself built on the legacy of Clinger Cohen, the Computer Security Act, and other key statutes like the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act. 

Understanding these roots, and using occasions like a 10th Anniversary of one key root, clarifies the roadmap from which all stakeholders can continue to build from their foundation to innovate and improve services to citizens.

See you all at the 20th Anniversary!

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