Internaut: IT projects still on hold? Here's why

Shawn P. McCarthy

One of this year's big paradoxes in federal IT spending is that budgets have gone up, but overall spending seems to have slowed. And we can blame it all on accountability.

Government purchasing managers have always followed very strict procedures and guidelines. But this year, 'accountability' seems to be an ever-more-important watchword for federal procurement'and it's likely having an impact on your IT projects.

The catalyst, as you probably know, is the Office of Management and Budget, which is increasing the pressure on agencies to make solid business cases for all proposed IT projects. As a quick refresher: OMB's Circular A-11 lists requirements for agencies seeking budget approval for specific projects. Exhibits 53 and 300 within the circular detail how agencies must justify a business case for their funding requests. To comply with OMB requirements, agencies must do more than just file the correct forms. They also need to present detailed data analyses justifying their IT proposals. They must prove that the IT resources are aligned with the mission of the agency. Without this verification, funding could be cut off.

Projects that don't present an effective business case may be tagged as ventures that need to be 'watched' closely, or that need to resubmit their business cases. About one-third of the projects proposed for 2006 funding have been rejected by OMB. In such cases, agencies have until June 30 to submit updated action plans. This has effectively tied up nearly $15 billion worth of 2006 spending proposals.

But what isn't immediately obvious is the fact that a rejected 2006 business case can also complicate spending for the current fiscal year as agencies step back and review their IT plans. Such pressure focuses mainly on projects rather than individual procurement efforts, but the trickle-down effect on procurement is considerable. And it's one of the reasons spending on technology has been slowed.

Technology questions

Aside from OMB, CIOs are placing their own pressure on purchasing managers. For instance, if a new server is needed, CIOs ask whether it will fit with current architecture, or should the agency be transitioning to something like Linux and open source?

Other questions swirling around CIOs' heads and affecting spending: Will network spending focus more on wireless systems and less on traditional hard-wired systems? Are all new laptops and handhelds able to take advantage of WiFi networks? All of this questioning leads to greater accountability in procurement decisions.

So if accountability is increasing at most agencies, where is it lagging? How about at the Homeland Security Department? Last month, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that DHS 'has not fully addressed any of the 13 responsibilities,' it has been assigned for cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection. [To read the report, go to < href="http://www.gcn.com">www.gcn.com and enter 427 in the GCN.com/box.] Sure, accountability can slow things up, but it can also help keep your agency out of GAO's cross hairs.

Ultimately, when it comes to both security planning and IT project planning, accountability efforts usually slow spending in the short term. But it can boost spending in the long term after issues are resolved. If current logjams get worked out, federal IT spending may see a great fourth quarter.

Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT op- portunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at smccarthy@idc.com.

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