Open government may have won a round, with some of the money that was cut in the previous
Congress year’s budget* for the Electronic Government Fund being restored by the 2012 Appropriations Bill (PDF) released this morning. The E-Gov Fund supports programs like Data.Gov, USASpending.gov, the IT Spending Dashboard, mobile apps, and much more. At first glance, the bill does three things:
First, it sets E-Gov funding at $12.4 million. While in FY 2009 and FY 2010 Congress provided $34 million each year to support government transparency programs, in 2011 the amount was cut to $8 million. For FY 2012, the House had proposed a partial-funding restoration to around $16 million, but the Senate had proposed further cuts, reducing the appropriation to somewhere between $5-7 million. It appears that the two chambers have split the difference, arriving at $12.4 million.
Second, it preserves the E-Gov Fund as an independent funding source. The E-Gov Fund has always existed as a stand-alone entity, but this year, the Senate (and later the House) proposed combining it with the Federal Citizen Services Fund. Doing so would raise important legal questions, but also increase the likelihood that one program would leach funds out of the other. By keeping the funds separate, the bill would help ensure that E-Gov funds are used for their statutory purposes outlined in the Electronic Government Act of 2002: ” to improve the methods by which Government information, including information on the Internet, is organized, preserved, and made accessible to the public.”
Third, it provides for an important measure of transparency. Because some funds spent by GSA are not controlled by statute or the GSA Administrator — a concern sometimes raised that E-Gov Fund spending is left to the administration’s discretion — a broad provision in the bill may have been inserted to address that issue. Sec. 528 imposes a reporting requirement on GSA to “describe each program, project, or activity that is funded by appropriations to GSA but is not under the control or direction, in statute or in practice, of the Administrator of General Services.” (It is unclear whether this requirement has existed in appropriations from previous years.)
Of course, this is not a done deal. The bill we’re looking at appears to be the negotiated agreement between the House and the Senate, although I’ve seen a report indicating that negotiations may still be ongoing. Even if it is not finalized, Senator Carper and Representative Issa deserve a lot of credit for fighting for these important transparency programs, as do our coalition partners (like OMB Watch) and thousands of people around the U.S. who have called on congress to #savethedata. While $12.4 million is far less than was available just a few years ago, it should be enough to keep these key programs alive and allow for a slow but steady rate of innovation.
* Updated to reflect that the money was cut by the current Congress, but for the previous fiscal year.