Internaut: Congress set to starve the IT beast
Shawn P. McCarthy
From hurricane relief to proposed limits on e-government spending, Congress is trying to reprioritize the way government IT dollars are spent. But these changes send a mixed message to government IT managers who are already trying to pursue multiple goals. The priority shifts threaten to remove some of the leverage they need to do their jobs. Here's why.
In recent years, IT planners have been told to:
- Consolidate redundant systems (especially financial and human resource applications)
- Improve interagency data sharing, especially for security-related data
- Focus on projects that provide a measurable return on investment
- Implement presidential e-government initiatives
- Improve service to citizens.
At most agencies, those endeavors are well under way. But spending cuts outlined in HR 2862 and Senate Report 109-088 will throw a monkey wrench into these IT reform efforts. GCN has already reported on how the House bill reduces funding to a huge security-related data-sharing effort: the FBI's multiagency Terrorist Screening Center. It also reduces e-government programs at the Census Bureau and other areas within the Commerce and Justice departments.
The proposals actually go so far as to require agencies to notify congressional appropriations committees of any effort that would shift funds in a way that could create, reorganize or abolish IT programs, or move federal employee jobs to external contractors.
But how can agencies be expected to deliver on the lofty service-to-citizen and agency-to-agency goals of the President's Management Agenda if e-government spending is restricted? E-government initiatives are some of the main avenues toward improving both. And how can the Federal CIO Council's systems consolidation mandates be made a reality if appropriations committees demand tight control over when, how and how much is shifted or cut? Some of these efforts seem aimed at protecting select programs, data centers and workers rather than at reducing costs.
Meanwhile, in the wake of recent hurricanes, one proposed amendment to the bill (via Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.) requests $5 billion to provide better communications and networking equipment for emergency responders. The funding would come in the form of Homeland Security Department grants to states. (Such grants were plentiful two years ago, but have slowed to a trickle this year as other priorities took precedence.)Good news, bad news
Thus, some of the spending is good news, at least for those who build first-responder networks and communications.
But some of the spending proposals in these two pieces of legislation seem shortsighted. They cut from programs that improve security, efficiencies and citizen outreach. And they complicate the important work that's being done to reduce redundancies and consolidate applications and systems.
If you have a chance to talk to any IT managers whose goals include any of the bullet points outlined above, ask them if Congress is making life easier or harder with its 2006 spending proposals. Ask if these proposals will save the agency any money in the long term. My guess? They will probably say they are making progress, and that Congress should leave well enough alone.Former GCN writer Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at