For the last four years, Congress has put funding for e‑government projects under increasing pressure. Jason Miller of GCN has the latest scoop on this year’s attempts by Congress to determine the precise benefits of e‑government initiatives, such as Grants.gov and E‑Authentication, and OMB’s attempt to provide the data to support continued investment in them. Some quotes regarding Grants.gov are most illustrative of the real issue at hand:
‘[A] House staff member pointed to Grants.gov and E‑Payroll as two projects that appear to be redundant to other, pre-existing systems.
“The committee provided money for the Federal Transit Administration to develop a grants management site. It works well for them, so why should they get dinged for money for Grants.gov?” the staff member said.’
And from a follow-up article, regarding the delay in Congress’s approval of e‑government funding in certain agencies’ budgets:
‘Even with the quicker turnaround, nearly every e‑government project, including E‑Rulemaking, Grants.gov and the Integrated Acquisition Environment, felt some impact from the delay.
Some projects put off upgrades, while others had to do fewer outreach activities, federal officials said.
And the delays are becoming more commonplace as project managers now plan for funding lethargy.
“Grants.gov’s program management office has program management controls in place to ensure that the initiative can stay operational and within budget,” said Terry Nicolosi, Grants.gov deputy program manager. “Any potential and actual funding shortfall that impacts the initiative is analyzed, and an alleviation plan is constructed and communicated to [the Office of Management and Budget] and our governance board that is made up of the 26 federal grant-making agencies before being incorporated into our operating plan.”’
Grants.gov is duplicative of some pre-existing systems. However, that’s the point: the government should build one, consolidated way of doing things and then ensure all agencies follow that path. Everyone knows that it’s frustrating, and annoying, and creates more work and a duplicative investment, but only in the relative short-term. If there’s one place to find and apply for grants (and, ultimately, to review, award, report on, and close out grants), then the rest of the government doesn’t need to build exactly the same thing over again and spend taxpayer money twice. Congress’s inability to stay focused on the goals ensures that the “relative short-term” is relative only to the amount of debate necessary to come to blindingly obvious conclusions, e.g. quite a lot.
The issue here is not the systems, or the benefits of those systems. It’s Congress’s paranoia that the Executive branch, through OMB, is trying to wrestle control of agency budgets away from the Legislative branch. (Which, if you think about it, is a lot like saying that a company’s board of directors doesn’t want its management team to optimize its business.)
This spat has little to do with real-world, citizen-focused or mission-focused benefits of e‑government but everything to do with control of power and money.
As Grants.gov and other e‑gov initiatives move towards fee-for-service models, this argument will become redundant, more acute, or just plain silly (or perhaps some entertaining combination of all three?). Stay tuned.