2014 Budget

IT Dashboard hints at classified IT spending in Obama budget

locked vault

The amount of money budgeted for classified IT is locked away in the vault of secrecy, but there some some clues. (Stock image)

Budget numbers posted April 12 on the federal IT Dashboard suggest that the government is spending at least $5.4 billion on classified information technology, but these numbers don't tell the whole story.

President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget request includes about $39.6 billion for Defense Department IT spending. Overall, the administration is seeking $82 billion for IT. The summary numbers in the IT Dashboard put the defense IT allocation at $34.1 billion. A helpful footnote to a budget document explains the discrepancy, noting that, "Spending levels on information technology investments shown here for DOD include estimates for IT investments for which details are classified. Totals shown here for DOD are higher than totals reflected on the IT Dashboard, which cannot reflect classified details"

If the $5.4 billion discrepancy forms a baseline for classified IT spending, the real total is likely much higher. The overall annual government IT spend could be as high as $100 million, said Joel Willemssen, managing director of the IT section at the Government Accountability Office, in testimony before a House committee earlier this week.

"When OMB talks about the amount of money the federal government spends on IT, it's an understated figure for a variety of reasons," Willemssen said. Among those reasons, he said, are "R&D projects or space projects that include a huge percentage of IT, which are not reported," as well as spending on intelligence and other exclusions.

The fact that the government is advertising the discrepancy between classified and non-classified spending in a budget document points to "pockets of increased intelligence transparency," over the last decade says John Slye, who analyzes government spending at Deltek.

The $5.4 billion might understate classified IT spending in other ways, Slye said. The IT components of weapons systems, such as authentication and encryption systems, could be classified as something other than IT.

What's not clear at all is the extent to which agencies that come under the classified portion of the budget – the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency – get funds out of the classified portion of the defense budget. Those with the access and clearance to know are breaking the law if they share such information. Those who make inferences based on years of experience in analyzing federal budgets are just offering their best guess. But even if it's incomplete, $5.4 billion is a significant start in funding classified technology.

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