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Obama eyes $2B increase in IT budget

Apr. 17, 2013 - 02:42PM   |  
Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel
Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel (Thomas Brown / Staff)

The president’s budget proposes nearly $2 billion in additional information technology funding for 2014, which would raise overall IT spending to $82 billion.

The Veterans Affairs Department would receive the biggest funding hike — 22 percent, or $722 million — compared with 2012, according data from the Office of Management and Budget. VA is requesting $3.9 billion in IT spending to fund several projects, including $32.8 million to develop VA’s paperless claims processing system, and $252 million for health records initiatives.

“Now is the time to invest in IT,” federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel told reporters. “IT will give you the ability to really have a multiplier effect in efficiency and effectiveness, if done well.”

VanRoekel touted administration efforts to reduce IT spending since 2009 after years of uncontrolled growth. The president’s budget notes that the compound annual growth rate of IT spending has slowed and is now less than 1 percent.

“We’re able to find those savings to drive innovation, drive productivity and really bolster our cybersecurity capabilities all within our existing [spending], and we want to keep that going,” he said.

The General Services Administration and Housing and Urban Development Department are among nearly a dozen agencies asking for fewer dollars in 2014.

Fifteen agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department would get more funding in 2014 versus 2012. The Defense Department’s IT budget would remain roughly the same at $39.6 billion.

VanRoekel attributed the overall increase to inflation and IT projects that support national priorities, such as VA’s claims processing system, upgrades to the Federal Aviation Administration’s IT infrastructure and IT investments at DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The budget proposes $13 billion for cybersecurity programs, including $300 million to fund continuous monitoring tools and services for federal agencies.

DHS’ IT budget would grow 9 percent, from $5.6 billion to $6.1 billion in 2014. The Education Department, Small Business Administration and Nuclear Regulatory Commission would see increases ranging from 10 to 12 percent.

OMB had pressed agencies to cut maintenance costs for old and duplicative systems and reinvest that money in new innovative projects, such as shared services, data analytics, cloud computing and cybersecurity. In preparation of the 2014 budget, agencies were directed to propose 10 percent cuts in IT spending and suggest how that money could be reinvested to provide cost savings or efficiencies within 18 months.

VanRoekel said agencies were allowed to reinvest 5 percent, but the budget does not outline specifically how those funds are being invested.

The challenge for such agencies as VA is balancing operational costs with innovation.

More than half of VA’s IT budget would be used to operate and maintain existing IT systems and infrastructure. VA is requesting $2.2 billion for operations and maintenance, most of which will cover mandatory costs such as telecommunications, software licenses, hardware maintenance and cybersecurity solutions to protect patient data.

These mandatory IT costs are expected to increase as VA expands non-IT investments for medical care and benefits delivery.

“Aging hardware, demands for mobile computing, new employees and VA facilities, more automated data activities and data exchanges, and complex security requirements” are also driving up costs, VA said in its budget documents.

In addition, White House-backed efforts to roll out mobile technologies and adopt cloud computing are expected to improve agency operations, but they require upfront investments by agencies.

“Innovations represent unknowns for future [operations and maintenance costs],” VA said in its budget.

The department expects that as much as 35 percent of the workforce will require mobile devices by 2015. Today, 25 percent of the workforce uses mobile devices. Internet traffic on VA’s wide area network doubles every 18 months.

The president’s budget said it expects agencies will save a combined $2.5 billion over three years by cutting the cost of mainframe computers and servers, mobile devices, telecommunications, and other infrastructure and software systems.

So far, agencies have saved $300 million of the $590 million target for this year.

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