Inside the Reporter's Notebook: 2014 IT budget passback is much ado about nothing

Monday - 2/11/2013, 5:41pm EST

Welcome to my new feature, "Inside the Reporter's Notebook," where every two weeks I'll dispatch news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is not a column nor commentary — it's news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

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Nearly two months late, the IT budget passback guidance turned out to be not really worth waiting for.

Multiple agency sources say the annual guidance detailing the Office of Management and Budget's IT policy priorities for the following year is much ado about nothing.

There is only one new requirement for agencies in 2013: By April 15, they must submit a plan to OMB for how they will give their chief information officer more authority over commodity IT spending.

OMB issued a memo in August 2011 telling agencies to give CIOs authority over IT spending for things such as email, data centers and storage. But the memo from then OMB-Director Jack Lew, didn't include any hard deadlines, so by requiring a plan in the IT budget passback, it's a signal the memo didn't have the impact OMB hoped it would.

At the same time, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is creating a bill to revamp the makeup of federal CIOs, both in terms of authorities and numbers of them across the government.

Beyond the CIO authorities deadline, OMB didn't include new requirements or signal any new IT goals for 2013 or beyond.

"This has the least amount of direction I've seen in years," said one long-time CIO, who requested anonymity because the IT passback is considered pre-decisional budget information. "It's not pushing so hard on the cloud, and focused more on shared services and mobile government. I think OMB doesn't want to signal cloud isn't the way to go, but they just are not harping on it."

Another CIO praised OMB's limited IT passback guidance, saying they had enough to do and needed time to work on current priorities.

A former government official echoed the CIO's opinion, saying agencies already have a lot to do with data-center consolidation, cloud, mobile government and PortfolioStat so they should focus on delivering on those goals and not have to deal with new requirements. The source said with sequestration still an unknown and the possibility for a year-long continuing resolution, any new programs would be hard to get started anyway.

But another CIO said the lack of teeth in the passback was surprising.

"I was surprised there was not more emphasis on managing information or technology better, especially with Issa pressing so hard on waste, fraud and abuse," the CIO said. "As far as our priorities, OMB was more passive around data center consolidation and not pushing on us to make major changes. It's all stuff we heard about at the recent CIO Council offsite."

The IT passback included references to continued support for the cross-agency priority goal for cybersecurity and the Digital Government Strategy, but nothing more specific as far as deadlines or requirements.

A request to OMB for comment on the IT passback was not returned. In previous years, they have not commented on pre-decisional budget guidance.

Some may say the lack of details in the IT passback is a sign that Steve VanRoekel's time as CIO is coming to a close.

Several people in the federal community — both inside and out of government — have mentioned in the last few weeks that VanRoekel may be looking for a bigger, better position in government.

One rumor that seems to be prominent is VanRoekel was interested in the OMB deputy director for management (DDM) position. Another rumor involved VanRoekel looking for something in the management or policy area of an agency, maybe a deputy secretary or assistant secretary for management type of position.

With current DDM Jeff Zients seemingly a candidate to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, a replacement is coming. But if you look at the recent events around sequestration, OMB controller Danny Werfel likely is the leading candidate to be DDM as he was acting in the role when Zients was acting OMB director. Additionally, Werfel seems almost to be auditioning for the role with the White House press conference on sequestration last week by testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday with several agency secretaries and deputy secretaries, including Defense Deputy Secretary Ash Carter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.