Budget-makers put the focus on IT

Budget-makers put the focus on IT

OMB chief Mitchell E. Daniels says the IT budget will not sacrifice programs to fund the war effort, but will grow at an ambitious rate.

E-government projects are a key part of the President's Management Agenda, says Dan Chenok, right, an OMB branch chief.

Congress and OMB are ready to support efforts to upgrade and secure systems

The war on terrorism, a recession and looming deficits are shaping the 2002 and 2003 budget debates, but money for federal IT initiatives appears sacrosanct. In fact, the aftermath of Sept. 11 underscores a need for more IT spending in the next several years, the Bush administration and agency managers said.

Priorities have shifted to domestic defense and the war against terrorism. But IT investments figure in those priorities.
When a government goes to war, its budget can look like one of two things, Office of Management and Budget chief Mitchell E. Daniels said: battle stations or business as usual.

A third look for the budget

Battle stations, he said, means sacrificing programs to accommodate war efforts abroad and defense at home; business as usual means piling those costs on top of the budget and drowning the country in a growing deficit.

Daniels has said publicly the total IT budget will continue growing under what he called the most ambitious management agenda he had ever seen.

The Hill'at least the Republican majority in the House'appears to want to go along with agencies' IT plans. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said he expects the IT budget to rise 10 percent.

But a well-placed source in the House Appropriations Committee said agencies can expect resistance on the Hill when it comes to 2003 IT spending.

'If we're hiring FBI agents, we have to fund them at an increased level,' the source said. Systems projects will receive funding only after other initiatives stemming from the terrorist attacks are funded, such as improving airline security.

Daniels reiterated that IT projects aimed at improving government processes will get the funds they need.

In particular, he cited the 23 e-government projects OMB task forces last year earmarked for priority status, even though the managers of those projects have been asked to look first within their own discretionary budgets for project funds.

Dan Chenok, branch chief for information policy and technology at OMB, said there is no question about funding for the projects. The reason: The programs are a big part of the President's Management Agenda.

Congress approved a $40 billion emergency supplemental bill shortly after the attacks, part of which paid for the new Office of Homeland Security. That money also eased the demand on agencies to cough up existing discretionary funds intended to pay for systems and other initiatives.

But agency program managers shouldn't mistake OMB's commitment to e-government for what Daniels termed 'springtime for spenders.'

In his first acknowledgement of a deficit, Daniels said that he doesn't expect the country to return to 'tin cans and ration lines.' But, he warned agencies, 'Do not protect the status quo. In the federal government, we have not proven successful at throwing away anything, no matter how poorly it performs.' So agency managers can expect to face tough scrutiny of IT proposals.

Beyond the fabled 23, Daniels has singled out other IT projects that will have OMB's blessing, such as initiatives at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service.

NWS director Jack Kelly said the service has about $7 million in its 2002 discretionary budget to back up its telecommunications center in Silver Spring, Md. Other projects include beefing up its systems to improve the accuracy of daily and long-range forecasts, and reducing lead times for tornado, flood and thunderstorm warnings.

NOAA officials said they want to expand radio coverage and improve the quality of broadcasts. Soon they will begin testing automated broadcast voices (see story, Page 24).

Progress at DOD

Other efforts slated to receive budget priority are technologies that help unify IT systems across the federal government, such as messaging and middleware. Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government, said infrastructure programs such as the FBI's Trilogy network have been accelerated since Sept. 11.

'One of the most significant changes is that even non-IT people are willing to focus on and invest in computer security, with the Defense Department making the most progress,' he said.

Trilogy's first piece, the User Application Component, started with a June 2001, $14 million award to Science Applications International Corp. under the General Services Administration's Millennia contract. Under the three-year task order, SAIC will modernize the FBI's investigative systems and make them accessible over the Web.

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