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Obama’s Budget Cuts Fed IT by $586 Million

The administration’s proposed budget tightens the proverbial belt around technology expenditures, as Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel further encourages agencies to do more with less.

by / February 13, 2012
The White House named Steven VanRoekel to replace departing federal CIO Vivek Kundra. Twitter

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 continuing the push against wasteful government spending. He said rooting out duplicative systems and processes and consolidating data centers would be ongoing priorities of his office for the foreseeable future.

One approach to eliminating waste is a renewed emphasis on TechStat sessions. The sessions, which are designed to help turn around underperforming projects through technology, have generated billions of dollars in savings and cost avoidance, according to VanRoekel. But in the last year or so, he said those sessions were conducted more by agencies rather than U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) staff members.

At the start of 2012 that changed. VanRoekel said the OMB is getting more involved in the process, and he has committed to doing one TechStat session per month.

“We did a handoff to the agencies in the last year after doing OMB-led for the first stage of this, and we’re bringing back a combination of agency- and OMB-led TechStats,” VanRoekel said. “We think this combination will yield even more savings and optimizations in the way we spend and reconcile IT across the federal portfolio.”

Uncle Sam will also focus on revamping its use of mobile technology.

VanRoekel mentioned that there will be a new mobile strategy that will launch in March, which will include making the large variety of federal contracts with mobile providers more organized and efficient. He stressed that there would be an effort to use tablet devices and other mobile technology to “untether” government employees from their desks and connect them better with citizens.

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Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.

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