Agencies walk a tightrope between cost savings and innovation

Where they put their dollars depends on what they do

Civilian federal agencies, like top corporations, spend significant portions of their technology funds on the infrastructure that supports the rest of their operations. They also invest in IT that will automate manual work, in an effort to improve operations, according to doctoral research by Jim Whitehead, technical executive at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Where civilian agencies do diverge from one another is in investments that lower costs and those that create pioneering IT, which provides for a new service or innovation for the agency, Whitehead said today during the 2010 FOSE trade show in Washington. FOSE is presented by 1105 Media Inc., the parent company of Federal Computer Week, Government Computer News, and Washington Technology.


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Agencies such as the General Services Administration and the Social Security Administration invested 16 percent of their technology dollars overall in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 on cost-saving IT. Agencies looking mainly to lower their costs spent only 5 percent of their IT dollars on ground-breaking IT investment. Innovation-intense agencies spent 17 percent of their money in that area, according to Whitehead’s research.

In the military agencies, more money goes to technology for combat operations, and the Defense Department and the various military services spent only 5 percent on IT that would lower costs in the same time period, he found.

On a broader scale, Whitehead analyzed 30 agencies that had undergone the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). The top PART performers invested more money on strategic IT, which helps the agency develop a new service, such as the E-Grants initiative.

“This is where agencies part company with their bottom agency or average agency brethren,” Whitehead said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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