The E-Government Act of 2002: A Stab at Cyber Security


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In the wake of terrorist attacks and with a war in Iraq looming, the government has begun to take precautions to ensure the security of online information. The current political climate has also prompted legislation aimed to ensure that governmental sites are effective at disseminating information as well as that governmental databases be effective and interrelated. The E-Government Act of 2002, which was signed into law by President Bush on December 17, 2002, purports to change all that. The law allocates $345 million to e-government initiatives over the next four years: $45 million in fiscal year 2003, $50 million in 2004, and $250 million in 2005 and 2006.

Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT and chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee) and Conrad Burns (R-MT) first introduced the bill to the Senate in 2001. Although it passed unanimously through the Senate, it underwent significant revision in the House, which included changing the original levels of funding. Kevin Landy, counsel for Lieberman, has said that one of the main goals of the bill is to promote better management of e-government, but it also—and perhaps more significantly—formalizes the role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) across the U.S. government, by creating an Office of E-Government within the OMB. This new office establishes a board to select technologies to promote collaboration, assess and finance anti-terrorism technologies, and encourage accountability in online government services.

President Bush acknowledges the similarity, and even contradiction, between the E-Government Act and title X of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (entitled the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002). In a statement from the White House he said, "notwithstanding the delayed effective dates applicable to the Homeland Security Act, the executive branch will construe the E-Government Act as permanently superseding the Homeland Security Act in those instances where both Acts prescribe different amendments to the same provisions of the United States Code."

The E-Government Act calls for agencies to make certain that all federal rules and regulations are available to the public via the Web and for the OMB to establish deadlines by which agencies must create electronic docket systems. The docket systems would allow constituents to email comments as well as view and respond to comments made by fellow citizens. As of the bill signing, the Transportation Department was the only government agency to post all of its rule-making efforts on the Web.

In an effort to concentrate the e-government efforts and jump-start initiatives, the OMB developed and launched the Quicksilver program, whereby it sponsors 25 interagency e-government projects. Not all are pleased with the direction e-government initiatives have taken, however. After discovering that selected projects lacked complete business plans and even sufficient information to supervise implementation, Lieberman has expressed serious concern over the manner in which the selections were made. "It troubles me that OMB decided upon its signature e-government initiatives without considering the very factors that it has identified as essential to successful e-government," Lieberman has said. "Especially now that the E-Government Act has passed," he went on to say, "I hope that OMB will evaluate its programs more carefully, and consult closely with Congress, to ensure that its initiatives realize e-government's true potential."

Although the bill was intended to assist collaboration among federal agencies, it should also improve communication between agencies and businesses in the private sector. Current federal sites tend to be uninformative, difficult to navigate, and generally not user-friendly, whether intended site users are businesses or individuals. Bush hopes that the security measures required by the E-Government Act, along with the Quicksilver program and other initiatives will result in government that services the people more effectively. His statement says: "This legislation builds upon my Administration's expanding e-government initiative by ensuring strong leadership of the information technology activities of federal agencies, a comprehensive framework for information security standards and programs, and uniform safeguards to protect the confidentiality of information provided by the public for statistical purposes." Bush goes on to predict, "The Act will also assist in expanding the use of the Internet and computer resources in order to deliver government services, consistent with reform principles I outlined on July 10, 2002, for a citizen-centered, results-oriented, and market-based government."