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The Project

Institutional Environment (Legal and Policy Framework)
Some critical and important pieces of legislation and policy which paved the way for FirstGov.gov included the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA) (Public Law 104-13); a lengthy and wide-ranging law, first enacted in 1980. It was revised in 1986 with some changes, and then underwent major revisions again in 1995. The PRA was enacted to reduce the paperwork burden on private citizens and businesses that interact with the government. It emphasizes the effective and efficient use of IT to achieve paperwork reduction. Hand-in-hand with the PRA is OMB Circular A-130 (Office of Management and Budget, 1985) which was created to clarify information management, information systems management, and information technology management for the federal agencies affected by the PRA. The Circular has been most recently revised in 2000 to include the implementation guidelines for the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-277, Title XVII).

The U.S. Congress signed the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) into law October 1998. The defining features of this piece of legislation included the following:

  • SEC. 1702. Authority of OMB to provide for acquisition and use of alternative information technologies by executive agencies;
  • SEC. 1703. Procedures for use and acceptance of electronic signatures by executive agencies;
  • SEC. 1704. Deadline for implementation by executive agencies of procedures for use and acceptance of electronic signatures;
  • SEC. 1705. Electronic storage and filing of employment forms;
  • SEC. 1706. Study on use of electronic signatures;
  • SEC. 1707. Enforceability and legal effect of electronic records; and
  • SEC. 1708. Disclosure of information5.

In short, GPEA enables citizens to file information electronically with the federal government and receive information electronically as well. By 2003, the federal agencies must provide the alternative for electronic public access to their documents with electronic filing of documents by the public also in place. Thus, GPEA provides the framework for the acceptance of electronic records as legal, valid and enforceable. It encourages federal agencies to promote electronic recordkeeping, filing, maintenance, submission, and archiving. This opens up a wide array of possible types of electronic information interactions including the submission of bids and proposals for government contracts, application for licenses, loans and benefits, order of government records, receipt of benefits such as social security, online procurement, and citizen commentary on legislative issues. GPEA requires that federal agencies must make available by 2003 the capability for online submission and receipt of forms, documents, and data.

Another law that helped set the stage for electronic government and cross-agency partnerships is the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 (later renamed the Clinger-Cohen Act). As introduced by Senator Cohen, the intent of the Act was to be:

A bill to facilitate, encourage, and provide for efficient and effective acquisition and use of modern information technology by executive agencies; to establish the position of Chief Information Officer of the United States in the Office of Management and Budget; to increase the responsibility and public accountability of the heads of the departments and agencies of the Federal Government for achieving substantial improvements in the delivery of services to the public and in other program activities through the use of modern information technology in support of agency missions; and for other purposes. (S.946)

Coincident with the passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act was Executive Order 13011, "Federal Information Technology" of July 16, 1996. This integrates provisions of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, and the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. More importantly, it put the Presidential "seal of approval" on the value and importance of information and its attendant technologies to government. This Executive Order is but one of many information-focused policies created during the Clinton Administration. The creation of the National Performance Review on March 3, 1993 (later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government) represented the Administration's visible intent to use information technology to create a more responsive and fast-acting government.11

To provide ongoing direction to the FirstGov.gov effort, the President's Management Council (PMC) established a FirstGov.gov Board of Directors, which consists of eight members from the PMC and three members of the Federal CIO Council.The board is responsible for coordinating FirstGov.gov issues across the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.Daily operations are managed by the General Services Administration (GSA), which has staffed a FirstGov.gov project team to lead the effort.This team, in turn, manages a $4-million, 2-year contract to operate and maintain the Firstgov.gov web site.The contract does not cover services such as redesigning the web site or changing its hosted location.It also does not cover the electronic search function that (1) collects and indexes information from all government web sites, (2) stores that information in a single large database, and (3) performs searches on the database to fulfill user requests.That search function is being provided to FirstGov.gov free of charge for 3 years by the Federal Search Foundation (Fed-Search), through a memorandum of understanding with GSA on behalf of the PMC and the FirstGov.gov Board.Dr. Eric Brewer, co-founder and chief scientist for Inktomi Corporation, established Fed-Search in June, 2000.Fed-Search has a contractual relationship with Inktomi for the technology and technical support to provide its free service to FirstGov.gov.

5 Government Paperwork Elimination Act; October 15, 1998. Congressional Record-Senate; S12627.