IT spending dips slightly in Obama budget request

Obama and the budget

President Barack Obama's fiscal 2015 budget request includes expanded top-level oversight of federal IT projects to prevent surprises like the buggy launch of HealthCare.gov, and a push to create standards for user experience across government websites.

Overall, the $1.014 trillion request includes slightly more than $79 billion in federal IT spending, down slightly from the $81.4 billion enacted for 2014. The savings come on the defense side, with $35.4 billion in the 2015 request, down from $37.6 billion last fiscal year, according to federal CIO Steve VanRoekel. Civilian IT spending ticks up a bit to $43.7 billion. VanRoekel attributed the slight dip in military IT to savings from initiatives such as data center consolidation.

The administration is rebranding and expanding its oversight of IT. VanRoekel is adding federal IT effectiveness to his oversight responsibilities, such as maintaining the federal IT dashboard of technology investments and conducting TechStat and PortfolioStat reviews of ongoing projects. This Information Technology Oversight and Reform authority includes improving the user experience on federal websites and IT platforms, and potentially developing government-wide website templates or common platforms, and making it easier to deploy talented coders and IT personnel from agency to agency. The administration is requesting $20 million in funding, up from the $14 million requested (and the $8 million actually enacted) in the 2014. The administration also is planning to increase IT oversight personnel from 12 to about 39.

The federal CIO budget request also includes $2 million to pursue the Cross-Agency Priority goal of securing federal networks, to focus on anti-phishing and malware defense.

While metrics for effectiveness are still in development, VanRoekel told reporters that he's seeking "standards and policies to drive a more effective citizen experience," while improving the way the government accesses tech talent, both in the federal workforce and in the private sector.

"What we find talking to constituents and Americans out there is they really view us not as a collection of agencies or even org chart, but as one government. The approach we're taking is really a one government, outside looking in approach," VanRoekel said.

VanRoekel touted a few new investments in the 2015 budget that exemplify these themes. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, an online benefits portal aims to offer faster, more accurate processing. A $100 million modernization project at the Social Security Administration includes improved access to online services. The government is also looking to expand platforms around functional rather than departmental areas, like BusinessUSA for companies looking for loan programs and training, and SelectUSA for foreign businesses seeking access to U.S. markets.

The budget also calls for merging the E-Gov program with the Federal Citizens Services Fund, with about $53.3 million requested for the combined office. That request was made last year as well, but senators' demand to keep the two funds separate ultimately prevailed.

Overall, the budget represents a thematic wish list for the Obama administration more than a blueprint for legislating. Spending levels remain within the limits of the two-year budget deal negotiated by Budget Committee Chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen Patty Murray (D-Wash.). However, the administration is again seeking higher taxes on higher-earning Americans and an expansion of the earned income tax credit for lower-income workers, neither of which is likely to gain traction ahead of the midterm elections.

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