IT passback is a dud, but CIOs’ budget is a winner

The New Year always brings that fresh smell of a new budget proposal. Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan announced via Twitter that President Barack Obama would submit his fiscal 2017 budget to Congress on Feb. 9.

And budget planning also means my favorite time of the year — the IT passback.

Unfortunately for me — and maybe fortunately for agencies — OMB decided to make the IT passback pretty much a non-issue for 2016.

Multiple agency CIOs told me the passback included no new governmentwide technology initiatives or new deadlines for existing initiatives.

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“It was really quiet,” said one CIO, who requested anonymity in order to talk about pre-decisional budget information. “It surprised me a little bit, especially with all the cybersecurity and other challenges we are facing.”

Another CIO said OMB did reiterate many of the existing deadlines whether it was for the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) or cybersecurity or other policies.

The one thing the CIOs said about the IT passback was OMB heard their need for more money for many existing IT initiatives.

“OMB really put the money where their mouth was when it comes to cyber,” said another CIO. “I think everybody was pleased because we felt like they listened when we said ‘if you need us to do all these things, this is what it will take.’ One of things Tony Scott told a bunch of us was not to hold back or pull any punches when asking for what you need. So we did, and we were pleasantly surprised.”

Another CIO said their agency’s IT budget basically went through untouched and didn’t include or exclude any special projects or new requirements.

An email to OMB seeking comment on the IT passback was not returned.

In the past, OMB has told me they don’t comment on pre-decisional budget information so I imagine the comment from the past decade will continue to stand today.

Traditionally, the IT passback gives agencies a final to-do list for the new year.

Last year, for example, OMB told agencies to set up digital services offices by Oct. 1. In the 2011 version, OMB mandated agencies to move at least two commodity technology services to shared service providers in 2012.

But in 2013 and 2014, the IT passback looked more similar to the 2016 version as OMB signaled no real new policy intentions.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, OMB routinely used the IT passback to set policies around the lines of business or cybersecurity.

“Due to the budgeting cycle (of planning two years in advance), the passback was a method in order to ‘adjust’ the plans based on actual execution which occurred during that year,” said Karen Evans, a former OMB administrator of e-government and IT during the Bush administration. “It was/is a process which allows OMB to manage based on the results of the agencies and further analysis in order to have better results. The outcomes always remain the same, i.e., better human resources systems, financial systems etc, it is the ‘how’ which needed to be adjusted.”