A Senate committee has approved a bill seeking to create the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). The government body is expected to spur ICT development, institutionalize e-government, and manage the country’s ICT environment and direction.

“The need for a DICT is here and now. The horse is already here. It is the cart we’re building. The creation of this agency is driven by demand,” Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in his sponsorship speech Monday.

Recto, chairman of the committee on science and technology, said the proposed department will be the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing agency on ICT. It will also plan, develop, and promote the national ICT agenda.

With the creation of the DICT, the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), National Computer Center (NCC), National Computer Institute (NCI), Telecommunications Office (TELOF), and National Telecommunications Training Institute (NTTI) will be abolished and their powers and functions, funds and appropriations, manpower and assets, will be transferred to the new department, he said.

The senator added all units of the DOTC with functions and responsibilities dealing with communications will be folded into the new department while the rest of the offices shall remain with the DOTC, which shall then be known as the Department of Transportation.

Recto said all work related to cybersecurity including the formulation of the National Cybersecurity Plan and the formation of a National Computer Emergency Response Team – ‘our IT Special Action Forces’ – will be transferred to the DICT.

“Let me assure you that these mergers won’t birth a huge bureaucracy nor burn a deep hole in the taxpayer’s pocket. It will have the same, if not smaller, budgetary footprint, as what the affected agencies together have,” he said.

He added that they limited the number of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and the creation of regional offices is optional, not mandatory.

He further said that in creating new positions, to be adopted is the scrap-and-build approach, in which, for example, a few unfilled lower positions can be reconstituted into one with a higher pay grade.

“The idea is to create a small but smart workforce. The army of casuals in ICTO, once they hurdle personnel standards, will be regularized. All benefits presently enjoyed by affected employees will be retained, including entitlements under the Magna Carta for Science and Technology Workers,” he said.

“If you need further proof that this bill will be spending-neutral, kindly read Section 21. Not a single new centavo will be appropriated in starting up DICT. The initial amount needed to get it up and running shall be taken from the current budget of the offices to be abolished, like ICTO,” he added.

Recto said the DICT shall be headed by a secretary who must have a minimum seven years of work experience in ICT.

“By spelling these out, we’re making sure the person will be hired based on competence, not connections. While the DICT secretary will have a workforce below him, he will have sectoral and industry task forces, technical advisory bodies by his side,” he said.

Pointing out the importance of DICT, the senator said the government which spends P2.5 trillion a year needs ICT to get more bang out of the buck, and to prevent bribes from being squeezed out of the last peso.

“Permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically-applied for, processed and issued. Let us leave to the MRT the exclusive franchise of organizing long lines. If there will be an FOI, then there must be a DICT to help implement the law, which will make it easier for the people to get information and service from government offices and officials,” he said.

“We have to harness ICT for us to be catapulted forward in an age when the race among nations for jobs and investments favors the one with the best ICT infrastructure,” he added.

Recto also added that previous bills creating the DICT had hurdled crucial phases of legislation in the past but flounder in the last minute for lack of time.

“This time, let us give it the final push. If we can bring this to the President’s table by June, then we are time-on-target. Hashtag L-O-L. Let’s Okay this Law,” he said.

After being sponsored on the floor, the senators will start its deliberation and propose amendments on the DICT bill. Once the senators are satisfied with the version of the bill, they will pass in on second and third reading.

The bicameral conference committee, composed of senators and congressmen, will then reconcile their versions of the bill, before returning it to their respective chambers for final approval.

The approved bill will then be submitted to the office of the President. The President can sign it into law. allow it to lapse and become a law, or veto it.