September 12, 2006 By Alison Lake
In a climate of tight state budgets and competition for funds, public IT departments are keeping close watch on how funds are disbursed. Movement of federal funds into states -- particularly areas such as education and Medicaid -- interests all agencies on the state and local levels. But locating this information is no small task. Currently there is no single searchable Web site or database that discloses information to the public about federal spending transactions.
In July, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management. This act would require disclosure of all recipients of federal funds via a searchable public database. A bipartisan coalition of more than 80 organizations supported this transparency bill.
"[Federal spending] databases are extraordinarily hard to access even for professionals whose job it is to monitor use of federal resources," said bill co-sponsor Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. "Transparency by itself is not the only answer, but it's a prerequisite to gaining fiscal control."
In June, the House introduced a similar bill to allow tracking of federal grants. Enabling citizens and agencies outside Washington, D.C., to track federal allocations and spending from start to finish will likely encourage more accountability at all levels of government. With this data in hand, state and local IT departments can make more mindful proposals when vying for federal funds.
The district summer heat produced other efforts at transparency and information sharing. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its Federal Transition Framework (FTF) intended as a single cross-agency source for e-government and technology line of business initiatives. In what could be a model for state and local governments, the framework helps agencies improve the effectiveness and efficiency of IT investments, as stated by OMB administrator for electronic government and IT Karen Evans in a memo to CIOs and chief information architects.
Cross-agency information sharing is increasingly seen as fiscally prudent and efficient. For example, according to the FTF, "Agencies can map their own enterprise architecture, investments and projects using the same taxonomy as the cross-agency initiatives." The document emphasizes aligning agency budget submissions with cross-agency initiatives to guide IT strategy and agencies' ability to procure funds. This framework for IT investment and implementation could be reproduced in jurisdictions looking to streamline government and technology services.
Finally despite federal efforts to streamline processes and budgets, the paperwork for those involved just doesn't seem to let up. The OMB reports that following two years of slight declines, the paperwork burden imposed on the public by federal information collections grew in fiscal 2005, and is expected to increase further in fiscal 2006. The 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act requires federal agencies to minimize documentation burdens for the public. A July Government Accountability Office (GAO) report stated a new approach was needed to address additional paperwork that has accrued as federal agencies add programs or change existing ones. "Agency processes for reviewing information collections were not effective" and were improperly certified, according to the report.
"Achieving real reductions in the paperwork burden is an elusive goal," testified Linda Koontz, GAO director of information management issues in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs. "Agencies have taken such actions -- by cutting redundancy, changing forms, and using information technology, among other things -- but these have not been enough to make up for the increases." Sounds like more paperwork directives will first be required to fix these problems.
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