IT and federal property: New and used ideas

If you love policy documents, this week is hog heaven as the White House has published the Analytical Perspectives (APs) to accompany last week’s 2020 budget request.

I read the chapters on information technology and federal real estate first. Maybe this is how romance novel enthusiasts dive into the latest tome from Nora Roberts?

We learned quickly that federal IT spending in 2020 will be about level with 2019 at $88 billion. The Defense Department will get about $1 billion less, the collected civilian agencies a billion more. All is not well. The perspective notes the “general health” of the thousands of individual IT investments is down. The evidence: 58 percent of investments rated green on the IT Dashboard last year. In 2019 it was 41 percent.

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In some ways the APs for IT sound not so much stale as blocking and tackling through long-standing initiatives. Take cloud computing, for example. The policy is long established and now it’s a matter of getting the last 30 percent of federal mail boxes to the cloud. Finishing the cloud version of Trusted Internet Connection. Speeding up the longstanding process of certifying cloud security and authorities-to-operate.

On IT modernization, the AP states that “due to the complexity of the IT landscape” agencies are “inefficient” at IT investment. Then it says, “This is largely due to both legacy and homegrown, non-standards-based systems designed to perform only one function rather than leveraging new commercial off the shelf technologies that allow efficient use of resources. These systems are costly for the federal government to maintain and secure.”

Put aside that these statements form non-sequiturs. The modernization, the administration said, will come down to three initiatives: More digital services, enhanced cybersecurity and re-doing the IT and cyber work forces. Again, it’s important but not revolutionary. There’s the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy, which received 1,000 applicants for 25 slots. There’s more cloud guidance, more data center improvement and reduction. On acquisition, we learned that by July, 194 people will have graduated from a certification program in something named “Contracting Core-Plus Specialization in Digital Service,” provided by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Level spending, continuation of existing initiatives — maybe the last few years of federal IT have been dramatic enough?

On the federal real property front, cutback efforts go back as far as data center consolidation and closure efforts. Into the dim past. Here, the administration gives credit to 15 years of work. It notes that between 2013 and 2015, the government disposed of 24.7 million square feet. That left a 2016 “footprint” of more than 2.6 billion square feet.

But that was mostly “low-hanging fruit,” the AP states. That is, assets not associated with expensive cleanups, with nobody championing for their retention, empty facilities, and those with clear market value.

Further reductions will entail space more difficult to offload. The Trump administration is proposing several new legal authorities for high-hanging fruit. It would like to revise Title 40, which lays on agencies the burden of screening for 12 possible benefits of conveying property to other public or non-profit entities before going to a sale. The administration would like to see this public conveyance benefits requirements eliminated legislatively. That would let agencies just sell the white elephant.

One, also proposed last year, would establish a $10 billion dollar revolving fund to finance new federal construction, with agencies in theory paying it back over 15 years. This, the administration said, patterns federal construction after finance methods used in state government.

So, some old ideas, some updated ones, some new ones in the Analytical Perspectives. Read ’em.

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