Wyatt Kash | Editor's Desk: Behind the Budget

Considering how many twists and turns President Bush's fiscal 2007 budget proposal has endured on the way to congressional funding, it's hard to put too much stock in the budget numbers just released in his 2008 proposal.

There is some satisfaction in IT circles that the president recommended another $65.5 billion'2.6 percent more than last year'be invested in information technology in fiscal 2008. But the larger message about IT, as usual, lies in the budget briefing.

Office of Management and Budget officials naturally portray the progress agencies have made on their IT portfolios. But they also point to risks that budget dollars alone won't necessarily narrow. Two examples in particular: The mounting complexity of securing information systems and the need for IT expertise.

Regardless of where you stand on the merits of how the government certifies secure systems, it's hard to ignore the fact that in fiscal 2002, just 47 percent of 7,957 systems had effective security and privacy controls. In the fiscal year just ended, 88 percent of 10,600 reported systems were deemed effective. For all the holes still in these systems, that's a lot of progress.

OMB also reported that, based on current agency submissions, 83 percent of major IT investments have qualified project managers compared with approximately 70 percent reported in last year's submissions.

But in the shadows of those figures lie not just gaps to be closed, but the real question of whether the government is keeping up with the growing security challenges and the need to attract more advanced IT personnel, even if the budgets are fully funded.

OMB reported that 346 of the 840 major fiscal 2008 IT investments, representing $14.4 billion in planned spending, are on the 'Management Watch List,' requiring special attention to performance concerns, before funding can be committed. That's not a small number.

It also noted that some 13 percent of 4,619 IT project management positions'and over 5 percent of 9,030 IT security positions'were vacant at the end of fiscal 2006. Only 17 of 26 agencies had met milestones to close their IT skill gaps.

As the need to share information grows and systems become more interconnected, the question remains: Will enough of the right IT talent be in place to put that $65 billion to proper work?

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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