President Barack Obama has slashed almost $600 million from last year’s federal IT funding in his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.

If enacted, the proposal would put total federal IT spending at just under $78.9 billion, a 0.7 percent reduction from fiscal 2012. More than $1 billion in IT costs would be cut from the Department of Defense (DoD), while major civilian agencies would be given slightly more — a $460 million increase — for their IT expenditures.

The biggest decreases in agency budgets were items Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel attributed to advancements made through technological efficiencies and project completion. The U.S. Department of Commerce has a $111.1 million reduction, primarily due to the development of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

The JPSS is a polar-orbiting, environmental satellite system that will be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The change from ground systems to JPSS requires less IT funding.

VanRoekel added that the U.S. Department of Energy’s $103.8 million budget is a reflection of the 2012 completion of its Sequoia supercomputing platform and the benefits stemming from that project.

As for the DoD, VanRoekel credited data center consolidation as a major driver for the lower budget number, resulting in $300 million in savings for the agency. Further modernization projects throughout 2012 in the U.S. Army and Air Force will also impact the fiscal 2013 budget and beyond, he said. 

“DoD will start to see large reductions across the board over [the] next decade,” VanRoekel said during a phone briefing with reporters on Monday, Feb. 13. “The agency is preparing for these reductions by investing in more agile and innovative IT so they continue to keep our country safe, protect our soldiers abroad and fulfill the mission of the agency.

“We’re encouraged by the DoD’s commitment to do more with less and have full confidence that modernizing their IT will allow the agency continue to perform at or above the high levels they set in the previous years,” he added.

Overall, out of the 26 federal civilian agencies, budget gains and losses would be an even split in Obama’s proposal for fiscal 2013. Thirteen would see increases, and the other half are staring at reductions. In a phone briefing with reporters, VanRoekel said the top three agency IT budget increases are the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Veterans Affairs.

VanRoekel explained that the Treasury Department’s increase (up by $358.7 million from last year) was for business system modernization projects aimed at improving citizen access to tax filing and related resources. The Department of Health and Human Services will see a $179 million increase, earmarked for health-care related computer systems.

In addition, he added that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ $216.1 million bump was for the Blue Button Initiative. Using technology, the program will give veterans easier access to their personal health records and better ways of sharing that information with private medical providers.

Federal IT Priorities

So what can agencies expect in terms of IT priorities from VanRoekel during the next year? The federal CIO said his team is working on four primary areas:

• maximizing the return on investment of federal IT by doing more with less;

• addressing a productivity gap and fostering a 21st-century government;

• taking a citizen-centric approach to interaction with businesses and citizens; and

• an increased focus on cybersecurity.

At the core of VanRoekel’s strategy is

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.