E-Government Act of 2002 Details and Background


On December 17, 2002, President Bush signed the E-Government Act of 2002 into law. A modified version of the legislation unanimously passed the House and Senate on November 15, 2002.

The deadlines for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to implement the requirements of the E-Government Act of 2002 arrived in December 2005. ALA’s concern is primarily focused on Section 207(d), “Categorizing of Information.” An Interagency Committee on Government Information was required to submit (by December 2004) recommendations on:

  • the adoption of standards, which are open to the maximum extent feasible, to enable the organization and categorization of Government information in a way that is searchable electronically, including by searchable identifiers; and in ways that are interoperable across agencies;
  • the definition of categories of Government information which should be classified under the standards; and
  • determining priorities and developing schedules for the initial implementation of the standards by agencies.

The ICGI submitted its report last year, recommending that OMB adopt the ISO Z39.50 international standard for interoperable search take action to assure that future search technology procured by Federal agencies is compliant with this standard.

In September, the OMB and the General Services Administration (GSA) put out a  Request for Information (RFI) to “identify and promote the most cost-effective means to search for, identify, locate, retrieve, and share information, and assess the net performance difference (including cost-benefits) of assigning metadata and/or a controlled vocabulary to various types of information versus not doing so.” It asks, “does current search technology perform to a sufficiently high level to make an added investment in metadata tagging unnecessary in terms of cost and benefit?”

GSA’s response analysis (PDF)

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On December 16, 2005, the Office of Management and Budget issued a Memorandum (M-06-02) on " Improving Public Access to and Dissemination of Government Information and Using the Federal Enterprise Architecture Data Reference Model." (PDF)

This Memorandum is intended to meet OMB's obligations under Section 207(d). According to OMB, “This memorandum identifies procedures to organize and categorize information and make it searchable across agencies to improve public access and dissemination (section I), discusses using the Federal Enterprise Architecture Data Reference Model (DRM) (section II), and reminds agencies of the breadth of their existing responsibilities primarily related to information access and dissemination, including under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. ch. 35) and the E-Government Act of 2002 (Pub. L. No. 107-347) (attachment).

It identifies “three new requirements” in the area of “I. Organizing and Categorizing Government Information and Making it Searchable Across Agencies to Improve Public Access and Dissemination.” Agencies must now:

  1. organize and categorize their information intended for public access, make it searchable across agencies, and describe how they use “formal information models” to assist their dissemination activities;
  2. review the performance and results of their information dissemination programs and describe the review in their Information Resources Management (IRM) Strategic Plans; and C) publish their IRM Strategic Plans on their public websites.

In regard to A. above, the Memo outlines procedures to “cost-effectively” fulfill this requirement:

  1. When disseminating information to the public-at-large, publish your information directly to the Internet. This procedure exposes information to freely available and other search functions and adequately organizes and categorizes your information.
  2. When interchanging data among specific identifiable groups or disseminating significant information dissemination products, advance preparation, such as using formal information models, may be necessary to ensure effective interchange or dissemination.

The Memo states that this policy “does not prescribe any new or specific thresholds requiring advance preparation of information or what form such preparation must take. Agencies should continue to meet existing requirements, ensure appropriate consultation with users, and consider the significance of the information dissemination product or data interchange to the agency mission and the level of public interest. As significance increases, so too may the need for advance preparation.” It notes that “Specific identifiable groups, also known as user groups and “communities of interest,” can include any combination of Federal agencies, State, local, and tribal governments, industry, scientific community, academia, and specific interested members of the general public.”

An agency’s IRM Strategic Plan is “the agency's IT vision or roadmap that will align its information resources with its business strategies and investment decisions. As an example, the IRM Strategic Plan might include the mission of the agency, key business processes, IT challenges, and guiding principles.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/a130notice.html.

It is unclear how this meets the requirements of the statute to determine “priorities and developing schedules for the initial implementation of the standards by agencies.”

The Washington Office will be working with the Committee on Legislation’s Subcommittee on Government Information and with GODORT on the issues raised by the Memorandum and other concerns with the implementation of the E-Government Act. We will also be working with the other library associations and other groups in Washington on these issues.

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The E-Government Act of 2002 Key Provisions

Disparity in Access

Section 202(c) makes it an agency responsibility to "avoid diminished access." Agencies are directed, when promulgating policies or implementing programs regarding the provision of government information and services over the Internet, to consider the impact on those without access to the Internet and, to the extent practicable, ensure that the availability of said information and services has not been diminished for those without access and to pursue alternative modes of delivery.

Section 213 calls for a study to enhance the effectiveness of community technology centers, public libraries, and other institutions that provide computer access to the public, and for the promotion of awareness of the availability of online government information and services. It calls for the development of an online tutorial that explains how to access government information and services on the Internet and which provides a guide to available online resources.

Section 215 calls for a study on disparities in Internet access for online government services, and a report of the study setting out findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The report is to include a study of: how disparities in Internet access influence the effectiveness of online government services; how the increase in online government services is influencing the disparities in Internet access and how technology development or diffusion trends may offset any adverse influences; and related societal effects. The report is also to contain recommendations on actions to ensure that online government initiatives do not have the unintended consequence of increasing any deficiency in public access to government services.

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Access to Government Information

Most of the language on this issue is in Section 207. Sections 205 and 206 also address access to government information. A related concern, common protocols for geographic information systems (GIS), is addressed in Section 216.

Section 207 - Accessibility, Usability, and Preservation of Government Information is intended to ensure that the Internet and other information technologies improve the way government information is organized, preserved, and made available to the public. Its intent is to do this by complementing existing law, building on current initiatives, and making use of existing standards where appropriate.

It establishes an Interagency Committee on Government Information, that will include representatives from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and agency CIOs, to make policy recommendations, after consultation with the public, on 1) categorizing (e.g., cataloging) information (d); and 2) access to and preservation of electronic information (e).

The Senate Governmental Affairs Report (hereafter referred to as "the Report") indicates its belief that the Interagency Committee must include individuals with 1) expertise in managing the content of large government databases, and 2) responsibility for developing the technical infrastructure for electronic government (to access the report, go to www.access.gpo.gov/index.html, click on GPO Access, then click on Legislative-scroll down the page and click on House, Senate, and Executive Report, click the radio box to search the Senate Reports Database, and search for "e-government act." The "Report" refers to the third document in the list, #107-174).

The Committee suggests that "agencies whose primary responsibility is the organization and dissemination of information" participate in the work of the Interagency Committee. Examples of such agencies include the National Library of Medicine and the National Agriculture Library, the Government Printing Office, and the Library of Congress.

The Director of OMB is given the discretion to include on the Interagency Committee representatives from the other branches of the federal government, and the Committee suggests that the interagency committee work with the Government Printing Office, the Library of Congress, and other appropriate non-Executive Branch entities, whether or not they are formal members of the committee.

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Categorizing of Information - Section 207 (d)
Directs the Interagency Committee to make recommendations to the OMB Director (within 2 years of enactment) on the adoption of standards, open to the maximum extent feasible to enable the organization and categorization of government information in a way that is searchable electronically and in ways that are interoperable across agencies. Within one year of that submission, the Director of OMB is to issues policies requiring agencies to use such policies.

The Committee notes in its Report that existing technologies and cataloging methods could allow agencies to keep better track of their own information holdings, and to provide public access to information about those holdings, in a way that is searchable electronically.

The Report indicates that searchable identifiers, or "keys'' as they are referred to in the technical community, are data elements created or provided at the time of origination of a record, information collection, or other information product; the identifier links the item to other common subjects which share that identifier. These identifiers are essential for helping to link or integrate information from different agencies or departments, and are an important building block to sustaining meaningful public access. The use of the term "organization and categorization'' in subsection 207(d) also can refer to the structuring and cataloging of information resources to make them easily retrievable, such as with "metadata''. "Metadata'' can refer either to the indexing of information or to the description of data that is being provided."

The Report states that the "Committee intends that the searchable identifiers developed under this section will build on and advance the purposes of section 3511 of title 44 of the United States Code. Section 3511 requires the development of a Government Information Locator Service (GILS), and was intended to lead ultimately to a system by which agencies and the public could locate and obtain government information holdings. The standards also are intended to apply more broadly than just GILS and are related to other portions of S. 803. For example, section 204 requires the maintenance of a web portal, which will help provide meaningful public access to government information. The standards in subsection 207(d) will strengthen the ability to search and quickly find information that is available through agency web sites. Similarly, section 212, regarding integrated reporting, is expected to improve access to information held in government databases; the standards derived from subsection 207(d) could expedite that goal. The Committee also intends that the standards for the categorization of information to be adopted pursuant to this section will be consistent with the standards developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in subsection 3602(f)(8)(B) in Section 101 of this Act."

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Public Access to Electronic Information Section 207 (e)
This subsection is intended to improve the preservation of, and public access to, electronic information by "achieving greater compliance with the Federal Records Act with respect to those records." The Federal Records Act requires NARA to work with agencies to preserve federal records, either temporarily (which can be very long-term) or permanently.

This subsection does not get us all the way to our desired goal of permanent public access to government information. It is a necessary step - preservation/ permanence of the information that has been appraised and scheduled - but it is not sufficient in that it does not address the issue of ongoing and meaningful public access to the information that has been so preserved. This issue remains to be addressed in future legislation.

The Report notes, accurately, that agencies "have had particular difficulty complying with the Federal Records Act with respect to electronic records, including records posted on the Internet." The Interagency Committee will recommend the adoption of standards to achieve greater compliance with the Federal Records Act in this area. The subsection requires that the Archivist of the United States issue policies based on the recommendations, and that the OMB Director report to Congress on agencies' compliance.

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Availability of Government Information on the Internet - Section 207(f)(2)
Directs agencies, within 2 years of enactment of the Act, after consultation with the Committee and solicitation of public comment, to determine what types of government information they intend to make available on the Internet and by other means, and develop timetables for doing so. The subsection provides for public comment throughout the process, and requires that agencies update their determinations as appropriate.

The Report states that "the public comment process will be more meaningful if agencies inform the public of what government information will not be made available. The Committee intends this subsection to establish a more deliberative process for agencies as they make decisions about what information should be made publicly available over the Internet." The agencies are required to submit, in the report to the Director of OMB (established in Section 202(g)), their final determinations, priorities, and schedules for making information available and accessible on the Internet. This reporting does not presume that the Director would have any veto function over agency determinations, according to discussions with Committee staff.

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Access to Federally Funded Research and Development - Section 207(g)
Directs the OMB Director (or designate), in consultation with the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and other relevant agencies to ensure the development and maintenance of a repository that will fully integrate, to the maximum extent feasible, information about research and development funded by the federal government - consistent with any relevant protections for the information under the Privacy Act - including that performed by "institutions not a part of the federal government, including State, local, and foreign governments; industrial firms; educational institutions; not-for-profit organizations; federally funded research and development centers; private individuals; and entities of the federal government.

The information about each research and development task or award is to include:

  1. the dates on which the task or award is expected to start and end,
  2. a brief summary describing its objective and the scientific and technical focus,
  3. the entity or institution performing it and contact information,
  4. the total amount of federal funds expected to be provided over its lifetime and the amount of funds expected to be provided in each fiscal year its work is ongoing, and
  5. any restrictions attached to the task or award that would prevent sharing with the general public of any or all the information required by this subsection.

The subsection also authorizes funds for one or more websites upon which all or part of the above repository shall be made available to and searchable by federal agencies and nonfederal entities, including the public.

The Interagency Committee, working with the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and after consultation with interested parties, is to make recommendations to the OMB Director on policies to improve agency reporting of information for the repository and policies to improve dissemination of the results of research performed by federal agencies and federally funded research and development centers.

The Committee Report makes clear that the "committee does not intend the public to have access to proprietary and other restricted information. Although the website will provide access to details on the research and development work funded by the federal government, the Committee does not intend that the website will provide links to results published in scientific journals."

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Public Domain Directory of Public Federal Government Websites - Section 207(f) (3)
Requires the OMB Director, working with agencies, to - within two years of the effective date of Title II of the bill - establish a public domain directory of federal government websites and to post it on the Internet with a link to the "integrated Internet-based system" (currently FirstGov) established in Section 204. The directory will be based on a taxonomy of subjects in which government information on the Internet is organized according to subject matter; the subject headings listed in the taxonomy will be linked directly to the corresponding websites. Agencies and the OMB Director will develop the directory through a collaborative process involving agency librarians, information technology managers, program managers, federal depository librarians, and other interested parties inside and outside the federal government. The directory will be updated as necessary, but at least every six months.

The intent of a directory of government websites is to allow the Internet user to find the desired information more easily than by using a search engine.

The Committee Report defines a taxonomy as "a structure that provides a method of classifying things into a series of hierarchical groups, in a way that makes them easier to identify and locate." The Report notes that the "Committee does not intend the taxonomy referred to in this subsection to include cross-references to related information and other detailed information that might be included in a library catalog system. Rather, the taxonomy need only identify a list of standard terms, ordered by their hierarchical relationship to each other. Although most taxonomies are created by human editors, it is possible to create taxonomies automatically using content categorization or taxonomy software. Even when computer programs are used, they often need editing to reflect actual content. This may be especially true in the federal government context, where the challenge will be categorizing a wide variety of government programs and vast amounts of information. This job can be made easier by referring to relevant existing taxonomies. The Committee recognizes the nature of the challenge, and the taxonomy that has been developed after two years should not be considered a finished product; rather it should be continually updated and improved."

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Standards for Agency Websites - Section 207(f)
Not later than 2 years after the effective date of Title II, the OMB Director is directed to issue guidance for agency websites. The guidance will include requirements that websites have links to: descriptions of an agency's mission and statutory authority; an agency's electronic reading room; information about the organizational structure of the agency; and an agency's strategic plan. The guidance will also include minimum agency goals to aid in navigating websites, including speed of retrieval of search results, the relevance of the results, and tools to aggregate and disaggregate data.

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Section 205 - Federal Courts requires federal courts to provide greater access to judicial information over the Internet. The mandates contained in section 205 are not absolute, however. Any court is authorized to defer compliance with the requirements of this section, and the Supreme Court of the United States is authorized to promulgate rules to protect privacy and security concerns.

Sections 205(a) through (c) require the Supreme Court, each circuit court, each district court, and each bankruptcy court of a district to establish a website that would include public information such as location and contact information for courthouses, local rules and standing orders of the court, docket information for each case, and access to written opinions issued by the court, in a text searchable format. Documents filed electronically, and those converted to electronic form, shall also be made available, except that documents not otherwise available to the public shall not be made available online.

Under Section 205(c)(3), the Supreme Court may promulgate rules to protect important privacy and security concerns.

Section 205(f), requires courts to establish websites within two years, and to establish access to electronically filed documents within four years. Section 205(g) authorizes any court or district to defer compliance with any requirement of section 205 by submitting a notification to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts stating the reasons for the deferral and the alternative methods the court is using to provide greater public access to court information. Every year, the Administrative Office will submit to Congress a report that summarizes and evaluates all notifications it has received in the previous year.

The Report makes clear that the Committee does not intend that the deferral provision will allow courts to avoid their obligations under this section indefinitely. Rather, the Committee recognizes that some courts may have a difficult time meeting the prescribed deadlines, and intends to provide flexibility for courts with different circumstances.

Section 205(d) directs the Judicial Conference of the United States to explore the feasibility of technology to post online dockets with links allowing all filings, decisions, and rulings in a given case to be obtained from the docket sheet of that case.

Section 205(e) amends existing law regarding the fees that the Judicial Conference prescribes for access to electronic information. In the Judiciary Appropriations Act of 1992, Congress provided that "[t]he Judicial Conference shall hereafter prescribe reasonable fees for collection by the courts for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.'' Subsection 205(e) amends this sentence to read, "[t]he Judicial Conference may, only to the extent necessary, prescribe reasonable fees for collection by the courts for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.''

The Report indicates that the "Committee intends to encourage the Judicial Conference to move from a fee structure in which electronic docketing systems are supported primarily by user fees to a fee structure in which this information is freely available to the greatest extent possible. For example, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts operates an electronic public access service, known as PACER, that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts, and from the U.S. Party/Case Index. Pursuant to existing law, users of PACER are charged fees that are higher than the marginal cost of disseminating the information."

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Section 206 - Regulatory Agencies requires regulatory agencies, to the extent practicable, to make available on an accessible government website information about the agency. The required information, as listed in the Administrative Procedures Act (at 5 USC 552(a)(1)), includes descriptions of the agency's organization; where the public may obtain information or make submissions; rules of procedure, description of available forms, and instructions as to the scope and content of papers, reports, and examinations; and substantive rules of general applicability, statements of general policy or interpretations of general applicability adopted by the agency. This information is currently required to be published in the Federal Register.

Section 206(c) -Submission by Electronic Means requires agencies to accept submissions by electronic means, to the extent practicable. This provision applies to submissions filed by interested persons in an administrative rulemaking.

Section 206(d) - Electronic Docketing requires regulatory agencies to establish electronic dockets for online rulemaking, to the extent practicable, on an accessible government website. Electronic dockets allow parties interested in a rulemaking to file comments electronically, and to view the comments of other parties. Agencies will be required, ``to the extent practicable,'' to include all submissions under section 553(c) of title 5, U.S.C., and other materials that agencies include in their dockets (by rule or practice) in their electronic dockets, whether or not they were submitted electronically.

The Report indicates that the "Committee notes that agencies receive many materials in the docket that may be difficult to make accessible through electronic means. There are also copyright issues associated with some materials submitted to agency dockets. To avoid the burden associated with transferring certain items to electronic format, such as books or physical objects, agencies may simply provide notice of the availability of the material, including in the electronic docket a description of the item and instructions for the public on accessing the material through the agency docket. Agencies may also consider using visual means, such as digital photos, to make materials available through the agency's electronic docket.

Section 206(e) - Time Limitation provides that the OMB Director will determine appropriate deadlines for compliance by all regulatory agencies, and include the deadlines in the first E-Government report submitted to Congress.

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Section 212 - Integrated Reporting Study and Pilot Projects has three main purposes. First, it is intended to enhance the interoperability of information systems maintained by the federal government. Second, it is intended to help reduce burdens imposed on the public, including the regulated community, when submitting information electronically to the federal government, and simultaneously improve the accuracy of the information that is submitted. Finally, it is intended to help the public obtain information from multiple agencies, collected under multiple programs, in an integrated fashion without violating personal privacy rights.

It has two main requirements: the development of a report on progress made by the executive branch in improving public access to government information by integrating access to information within and across agencies; and the completion of pilot projects to achieve such outcomes.

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Section 216- Common Protocols for Geographic Information Systems (GIs) authorizes funds and requires the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, working with the OMB Director and through an interagency group, and working with private sector experts and standards groups, state, local and tribal governments, and other interested parties to develop common GIs protocols.

The Report indicates that the interagency group is intended as a reference to the Federal Geographic Data Committee, which was organized in 1990 pursuant to OMB Circular A-16 and which promotes the coordinated use, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data on a national basis. As described in subsection 216(e), the common protocols will maximize the electronic compatibility of geographic information from various sources and promote the development of interoperable GIs technologies for low-cost use and sharing of geographic data by government entities and the public. The OMB Director will oversee the initiative and the adoption of common standards related to the protocols.

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Privacy of Government Information

Section 208 - Privacy Provisions requires federal government agencies to develop Privacy Impact Statements (PIAs). PIAs are public documents that explain how an agency takes into account privacy considerations when purchasing and creating new information systems, and when initiating collections of information. PIAs are intended more elicit more detailed information than what is required by the Privacy Act of 1974, and the PIA requirement is applied to a greater number of information systems than is the Privacy Act. The CIO Council adopted PIAs as a "Best Practice'' on February 25, 2000, citing the IRS's PIA as a model.

The Committee Report states that "Individuals will not, and should not, be expected to use services that they do not trust, and privacy and security are essential to provide greater trust in e-government services. The Committee recognizes that providing citizen-centered electronic government will require greater vigilance on the part of agencies to ensure that individual privacy is being protected.

The Section 208 privacy protections address two major concerns:

  1. the greater personalization of government services need not impinge on personal privacy, if the federal government takes steps to address privacy concerns when first designing systems; and
  2. privacy notices, which are one of the fundamental elements of privacy protection, need to be clear, concise, intelligible and accurate.

Further, agencies should take advantage of technological developments that allow such notices to be rendered in a standardized and transparent form that will allow a citizen to better control their information through the use of a Web browser."

Section 208(b) specifies that an agency will conduct a PIA before developing or procuring information technology, or initiating a new collection of information, in which information in an identifiable form will be processed electronically.

"Information in an identifiable form" is defined as "any representation that permits the identity of an individual to whom the information applies to be reasonably inferred by either direct or indirect means."

The OMB Director is responsible for issuing guidance to agencies specifying the required contents of a PIA; the PIA will have to include a description of:

  1. the information to be collected;
  2. the purpose for the collection;
  3. any notice that will be provided regarding what information will be collected and how it will be shared;
  4. the intended uses of the information; and security measures to protect the information; and
  5. whether a Privacy Act "system of records" is being created.

All completed PIAs will be reviewed by the agency's Chief Information Officer, or equivalent official, before being made public.

The Report indicates that the "Committee intends that the OMB guidance on conducting PIAs under subsection 208(b) should allow for consistency with post-procurement PIAs done by some agencies.

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Section 208(c)(1) - Privacy Protections on Agency Websites requires that agencies post privacy notices on all federal government websites and details the kind of that should be included in guidance to create such notices.

The Report notes that "OMB has previously recognized the importance of website privacy policies and has given basic guidance to agencies. Guidance on this subject should be continually updated to reflect the changes in technology and fair information practices. The Committee does not intend section 208 to require a modification of OMB policy restricting the tracking of individuals through agency websites, through the use of such devices as 'persistent cookies.'"

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Section 208(c)(2) - Privacy Policies in Machine-Readable Formats requires that these notices also be posted in a standardized machine-readable format.

The Committee Report notes that "Privacy policies in machine-readable formats are designed to be a simple, automated way for users to gain more control over the use of personal information on websites they visit. In creating guidance for putting privacy policies into such formats, the Director should seek to ensure that federal government agencies are using an interoperable standard that can adequately relate the agencies' privacy practices. Currently, the leading standard for privacy policies in machine-readable formats is the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P). ... As of the writing of this report, several government agencies have already implemented P3P on their Web site, including the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce and US Postal Service."

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Other Provisions of Interest

Section 3602 - Office of Electronic Government essentially codifies the structure that has been created in OMB to undertake e-government initiatives, the Associate Director for Information Technology and E-Government. It is a big step away from the Federal Chief Information Officer originally envisioned. This office is not given clear and singular authority for federal information policy. Instead, the Administrator of this Office is to "assist the [OMB] Director and the Deputy Director for Management and work with the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs [OIRA] in setting strategic direction for implementing electronic government, under relevant statutes..." It remains to be seen if this will be a substantial improvement on the current state of federal information policy under the aegis of OIRA, and if the management of government information will be given high priority in an office currently concentrated on technology and services.

On the plus side, the Administrator's responsibility to assist the OMB Director include:

  1. sponsoring ongoing dialogues among federal, state, local, and tribal governments on e-government in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as leaders in the private and nonprofit sectors, to encourage collaboration and enhance understanding of best practices and innovative approaches in acquiring, using, and managing information resources; and
  2. sponsoring activities to engage the general public in the development and implementation of policies and programs, particularly activities aimed at fulfilling the goal of using the most effective citizen-centered strategies and those activities which engage multiple agencies in providing similar or related information and services.

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Section 3603 - Chief Information Officers Council codifies the Council created by President Clinton's Executive Order 13011 of July 16, 1996, with some changes. By codifying the existence of the CIO Council, the bill opens a small possibility of making the Council more open and accountable, although there are no provisions in the bill to require this. Among the functions of the CIO Council is working with the Archivist of the United States to assess how the Federal Records Act can be addressed effectively by federal information resources management activities.

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Section 204 - Federal Internet Portal authorizes the development of an integrated Internet-based system, a Federal Internet portal, to provide the public with consolidated access to government information and services from a single point, organized according to function, topic and the needs of the public rather than agency jurisdiction. This section essentially authorizes FirstGov.

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