Budget

OMB seeks more money to tackle IT effectiveness

Sylvia Burwell

OMB Director Sylvia Burwell wants to focus on attracting more highly skilled IT developers and more agile vendors.

In size and funding, the Office of Management and Budget is a small agency, with a head count of about 500 and a fiscal 2015 budget request of $93 million. But in terms of its impact on the federal government and its interaction with Congress, it punches above its weight. So it's not a big surprise that OMB Director Sylvia Burwell was pressed at an April 9 Appropriations subcommittee hearing about a $12 million increase for IT oversight to improve efficiency in development and procurement.

The request comes in the wake of the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov, and the lessons learned from diagnosing the problems that led to the development of a site that didn't work. "That is what the money in the budget is about," Burwell said.

She told the subcommittee that OMB identified three management issues that need to be fixed to help IT procurement. OMB wants to put in place stronger connections between business owners and IT specialist, shift from a waterfall approach to development to a more iterative process, and improve end-to-end accountability on projects.

Burwell said she wants OMB to focus on attracting more highly skilled IT developers and managers and more agile vendors, and improving best practices for procurement and project management.

"There are complexities in the system" she said, that can impede government from getting the best IT professionals to work at agencies, and the most nimble and advanced tech companies to bid on government contracts.

Burwell said IT oversight appropriations have been focused on generating savings through policy initiatives such as cloud computing and data center consolidation. But the request to increase the overall IT oversight budget from $8 million to $20 million was about hiring more people to create and share acquisition and development best practices.

"We don't want to create this all over the government. We believe there should be a centralized place with the skills and best practices that then apply to different places and departments," she said.

It's not clear whether more money is in the offing. Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) said he was impressed by the overall federal IT savings in recent years, but noted that most government departments were making due with less funding, and that congressional offices have seen their appropriations decline by 16 percent in recent years. "Most Americans want to see leaders lead by example," he said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 11, 2014

If you get an offer by the US government in OMB or any other agency, run! Federal employment is not a pleasant place and with 80%+ of federal spending going to mandatory spending (interest on the debt, Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security), there is precious little (actually no) room for better future treatment of federal employees. But, the politicians are trying to balance the budget deficit on the backs of a very small population of feds. Good for political show, but really does nothing. Hiring and treating them well is certainly not in the cards.

Thu, Apr 10, 2014 John Kim Los Angeles, CA

I think that competitions to spur federal research can enable patriotism in participants. The contributions made in a competition can potentially save more lives and introduce stunning breakthroughs in technology, not explored by the private sector.

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