wfedstaff | April 17, 2015 4:52 pm
The $2 billion increase in the federal IT budget request for fiscal 2014 is less about how much and more about how agencies would spend it.
The administration is making the case the boost is both timely and deserved.
“The macro theme here, independent of getting into inflation and looking at trends, is the conversations I’ve been having with the appropriations, the authorizers and others up on the Hill, the White House, the agencies and others is that now is the time to invest in the IT,” said Steve VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, in a press briefing Wednesday. “IT will give you this ability to really have a multiplier effect in efficiency if it’s done well. The key here is we cannot invest in the way we have invested in the past.”
He said agencies need to continue to move away from investing in operations and maintenance of outdated systems and focus even more on innovating with the money they do have.
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At least 15 civilian agencies and the Defense Department would see IT increases next year under President Barack Obama’s annual budget submission to Congress, which he sent Wednesday.
This is the first time in three years the President is asking Congress for an increase for agency technology projects and programs. The 2014 budget proposal asks for $81.9 billion, up from $80.5 billion this year.
The bulk of the increase goes to two agencies — Homeland Security, which would see a $514 million increase, and Veterans Affairs, which would receive $722 million more in its IT budget.
“Some of the increases you will see in the Department of Veterans Affairs that include IT [are] around addressing the benefits backlog. Some increased benefits and services to veterans and some work in IT related to that are things like new relationship management systems to reach a broader set of veterans,” VanRoekel said.
He added VA also would get more money for work on the lifetime electronic record and the integrated health record initiatives.
DHS’ increase would go to efforts to implement technology to help with immigration and customs, and cybersecurity enforcement and development of systems.
Several other agencies would see double digit percentage increases:
The Defense Department would see a $10 million increase after its IT budget dropped the previous year by almost $800 million.
Despite the increase in the request, VanRoekel is quick to point out that compound growth year-over-year in the IT budget is less than 1 percent, after equaling almost 8 percent the previous decade.
Data-driven analysis effort expands
OMB is less concerned that the IT budget is going up and more concerned that agencies are spending it the right way.
VanRoekel said his office will build on, and expand into non-IT areas, a data-driven analysis program, called the Evidence Based Innovation (EBI) initiative.
He said EBI along with PortfolioStat version 2, which he released late last month, will give agencies the tools to make better decisions about how to spend their funding.
OMB is asking for about $6 million under a new Data Drive Innovation Fund to stand up a small team of experts to apply this approach to more than just IT programs.
The DDI would be split into three funds. VanRoekel said OMB received $5 million last year, and Congress continued the funding in the 2013 budget for OMB to work evidence-based analysis of IT programs. OMB also would receive $3 million to develop new capabilities around cyber from a staffing perspective.
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VanRoekel said this type of evidence-based work already is happening across the government, but in small pockets and on more of an ad hoc basis.
“Things like Education’s I3 program and some other programs that use evidence-based work and low-cost intervention to understand how can you drive for better results inside the programs that you have out there. We asked for some modest funding to stand up an operational arm to start to centralize some of the efforts here,” he said. “If we went off and said evidence-based work is important, that when you do different programs you should gather data and understand what impact you are having, and maybe do comparisons between programs to say this one is more effective at teaching young children math. … It’s an effort to think about how do we operationalize that and drive this initiative from a central location instead of having every agency build up the capability to do that across the board.”
VanRoekel said OMB tested this approach on IT systems last year and saved or avoided spending $700 million.
Specifics around PortfolioStat savings
This evidence-based approach is similar to PortfolioStat because it brings decision-makers together. One major difference is how it’s applied: a portfolio within an agency versus similar cross-agency programs.
Under PortfolioStat version 1, OMB released new details about where it expects to save or avoid spending $2.5 billion by the end of 2015.
The biggest areas are around mainframes and servers, which are slated to save or avoid spending more than $738 million, and more than $387 million on mobile services.
VanRoekel said OMB expects agencies to achieve just about half of the $2.5 billion in savings in 2014.
“If you think about us doing very, very low cost interventions inside government and using data in a much richer way to understand what’s working and what’s not, we can tune in certain things to really drive effectiveness in a way we haven’t,” he said. “I think this is an area that holds a lot of promise to take data, to take our open data principles and scientific methods and bring it together to drive a new set of outcomes at a very low cost for our country.”
E-Gov Fund to rebound
Cybersecurity and the E-Government fund are two other areas under the IT rubric that would see significant increases over this year.
The General Services Administration is asking for about a $5 million increase to $20 million in 2014 for the E-Government fund.
Dan Tangherlini, the acting administrator of GSA, which runs the fund, said the fund took a big hit last year.
“It is both the fact the CR funding level did hit the fund pretty hard compared to our request,” he said. “What we are trying to do is continue to emphasize the importance and value of the fund to help us transform the way the government delivers services.”
He said initiatives such as FedRAMP, USASpending.gov and others will transform the way services are delivered and, over the long-term, drive down costs.
GSA also is requesting $46 million for the federal citizen services fund and $13 million for the acquisition training fund.
DHS is getting the bulk of the funding increase around cyber.
VanRoekel said civilian agencies are spending about $15 billion on cyber with the bulk going toward implementing and measuring compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate is asking for $810 million in funding for cyber programs, including $44 million for the enhanced information sharing program under the cyber executive order and $300 million to continue to implement continuous monitoring services.
The Justice Department, DHS and DoD also would share $79 million more in cyber funding to improve incident response and improve how they respond to cyber incidents together.
The Commerce Department asked for $85 million more for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) and other research and development priorities under cyber.