White House pushes $2B increase in IT spending

Wednesday - 4/10/2013, 1:03pm EDT

Steve VanRoekel, federal chief information officer

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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He said agencies need to continue to move away from investing in operations and maintenance of outdated systems and focus even more on innovating with the money they do have.

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.

Big winners

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:

  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission - 12 percent increase

  • Small Business Administration - 11 percent increase

  • Education Department - 10 percent increase
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.

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."