For '06, most agencies' IT budgets will be flat

Clay Johnson

Rick Steele

When President Bush sends his fiscal 2006 budget proposal to Congress today, agencies that do not carry out defense or homeland security missions should expect flat or reduced IT budgets.

Office of Management and Budget officials said the federal IT budget request will increase by single percentage points for next year, but the uptick will not be felt by all agencies.

As civilian agencies receive the same or less money, administration officials said they expect all agencies to do more with less by managing IT better and improving their efficiency and effectiveness.

Like most of the budget request, the Defense and Homeland Security departments likely will see double-digit growth, budget analysts said.

Such growth would be in line with the president's fiscal 2005 budget. For this fiscal year, the IT budget grew by 1 percent, to $59.7 billion from $59.1 billion.

For this year, OMB decreased 13 agencies' budgets, including a $162 million drop at the Agriculture Department and $128 million decline for the Transportation Department. Experts expect civilian budgets to take the same kind of hit again next year.

'All the signals from OMB throughout the budget process were that this was an unusually tight year,' said John Marshall, former CIO and assistant administrator for management for the Agency for International Development.

According to a government official, the number of IT projects would decrease even though total spending would go up.

Mark Forman, former OMB administrator for e-government and IT, said the reduction in total projects is an example of improved IT management.

'Good IT management is all about doing more with less,' Forman said. 'The efficiency and effectiveness of IT programs should go up because IT is used more strategically.'

Each year, the budget should better reflect the IT management practices instituted over the past four years, he added.

OMB will officially name shared-service providers when the budget is released, and it will name cybersecurity as a new Line of Business initiative, the government official said.

Clay Johnson III, OMB's deputy director for management, said the budget will target program results more than ever before.

'Our focus is on outcomes and whether we are getting more for the money we are spending,' he said. 'We have more information about what works and what doesn't, and we are able to make smarter budget decisions.'

For fiscal 2006, the administration will propose three new ways to do more with less:
  • Extend flexible human resources regulations, like those at DHS and DOD, to all civilian agencies. The Office of Personnel Management is working on a legislative proposal that it will send to Congress after the budget request.

  • Create a Sunset Commission within Congress that will review 120 programs a year and require agencies to justify each program's continued existence.

  • Create a nonpartisan Results Commission to look at programs by subject areas, such as training, and recommend how to improve their performance. OMB would then send proposals for changes to Congress.

All three of the proposals would require congressional approval.

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