Lawmakers Concerned about Compliance with Key E-Government Law

WASHINGTON – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Ranking Republican Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman, D-Calif., emphasized Thursday the importance of agency implementation of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) but expressed concern that the effort may be getting off on the wrong foot.

Enacted in 1998, GPEA requires federal agencies, by 2003, to provide the public or businesses that deal with federal agencies the option of submitting or receiving information electronically. Agency compliance with GPEA is an important step toward the realization of e-government.

But the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported Thursday that agency plans for implementing GPEA do not adequately address the requirements set forth by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in May 2000.

Lieberman expressed concern that because the plans are incomplete, not only will OMB be unable to monitor agency progress, but Congressional oversight committees will be similarly impeded.

“Although complying with GPEA may be difficult,” Lieberman added, “it is essential that agency heads and the OMB provide strong leadership to realize the Act?s vision of a government connected to the public via the Internet.”

Burton said, “We want the government to act more like a private business. They need to use information technology to increase productivity and improve service. Citizens should be able to file government forms electronically. So should small businesses. We?re going to continue to oversee this process to make sure Federal agencies are following through.”

“Agencies’ difficulties in complying with the requirements of GPEA demonstrate how far government has to go in its management of information technology, ” Thompson said. “We must proceed cautiously as we pursue an electronic government — if we simply automate current processes, we may make matters worse.”

Waxman said, “GPEA was enacted to expand the opportunities for individuals and businesses to file information electronically. It has yet to be demonstrated whether electronically submitting information reduces the number of burden hours it takes people to complete required submissions. It may have other benefits such as easy access to forms or relief from the cost of postage. However, even these limited benefits will not be realized unless agencies fully comply with the act.”

Lieberman has requested a series of reports from the General Accounting Office (GAO) to examine the progress of GPEA implementation, and Burton held a committee hearing Thursday to examine the same issue.

In a September 2000 report, GAO said OMB had developed useful guidance for implementing GPEA, but that agencies would still have to address serious challenges including ensuring the involvement of agencies? top management and addressing a variety of information technology management issues.

In its written testimony for Thursday?s hearing, however, the GAO concluded “OMB will be challenged in providing oversight of agency GPEA activities because the [implementation] plans submitted by the agencies [in October 2000] do not document key strategic actions, nor do they specify when they will be undertaken.”

GAO explained that two months after issuing the comprehensive guidance, OMB released subsequent reporting guidance for the agencies which “did not stipulate a full report on the variety of strategic actions and other tasks that agencies were expected to perform . . . .”