President Clinton's fiscal 2000 budget, released last week, asks Congress to fund large information technology projects that are the cornerstone of the effort to make government work better, as required by a 1993 law. Clinton has requested billions to fund projects that automate critical agency ope
President Clinton's fiscal 2000 budget, released last week, asks Congress to fund large information technology projects that are the cornerstone of the effort to make government work better, as required by a 1993 law.
Clinton has requested billions to fund projects that automate critical agency operations, such as financial management applications at the General Services Administration and other agencies, or that upgrade existing systems, such as the Internal Revenue Service's tax system modernization program and the Census Bureau's 2000 census.
The White House has highlighted these programs as ones that will help agencies meet the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993, which requires that agencies measure the performance of their programs against specific goals. The act calls for agencies to submit their first performance report by March 31, 2000.
"IT is critical in solving most of the management problems identified not only in the list...but also on [the General Accounting Office's] high-risk list and management challenges list," said a staff member at the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The proposed budget "looks like it's covering the right bases, but the key is in the details," the staff member said.
Improving financial management information is among the top three goals listed on the president's 24-item management "to do" list that the administration hopes will provide a road map to complying with GPRA. The budget emphasizes plans at three agencies to deploy automated systems.
GSA will install a new financial management system called Pegasys at the beginning of fiscal 2000. To pay for the system, GSA plans to use a special fund that is separate from the rest of the agency's appropriations.
While GSA's old computer system could handle all of the agency's financial information, Pegasys will save time and work by automatically routing requests to the proper offices without information having to be retyped, said William Early, deputy chief financial officer at GSA.
"Our performance will be dramatically improved," Early said.
The administration has earmarked the Energy Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive additional IT funds for financial systems. DOE officials have asked for $16 million for new financial management systems, and HUD has requested $29.7 million for its ongoing work to integrate its financial management system. In the past two years, the agency has received $79.5 million for the system.
In a similar vein, the administration has made it a high priority to modernize the nation's massive student aid program. The Education Department's budget includes $501 million to continue the modernization and operation of systems that are crucial to managing data on student financial aid programs. The modernization should save $48.4 million, the administration said. According to budget documents, Education already has saved $9.8 million on $302.5 million in IT investments for student aid modernization.
Trust Funds at Interior
On a smaller scale, the Interior Department is looking for $15.3 million in fiscal 2000 to develop an IT system to improve the management of the trust funds held for American Indians. Some American Indians are suing the government over the management of their accounts in recent years. Interior believes the development of a Trust Asset Accounting and Management System (TAAMS) could help head off disputes. The department is spending about $2.4 million on the system this year. The department also is asking for another $14.9 million for an American Indian trust fund accounting system.
The two systems will improve the management of information on 56 million acres of land and close to $3 billion in trust accounts, said Dominic Nessi, the TAAMS program manager. "There's a tremendous workload burden on our existing staff. I can't believe what they get done without the proper management tools," he said. "The purpose of the system is to be more efficient."
The president's proposed budget also calls for continued funding of major modernization projects at the Internal Revenue Service, which will update how the agency processes the more than 200 million tax filings it receives each year and help make the agency more taxpayer-friendly. In fiscal 1998 and 1999, Congress provided the IRS with $506 million to fund its large-scale tax systems modernization program, which will sustain the agency through fiscal 2000. For fiscal 2000, Clinton requested $325 million to be set aside for continued systems modernization in fiscal 2001.
"This technology modernization project won't happen overnight, but it will ultimately be a springboard for us to provide top-flight taxpayer service," IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said late last year. "In many areas, improved service hinges directly on replacing outdated technology."
Funding for modernization also has become a top priority at the Census Bureau as it gears up for the 2000 decennial census. Commerce Department officials placed a high priority in the department's fiscal 2000 budget on producing a successful 2000 census, seeking $2.8 billion for the effort.
Alan Balutis, deputy chief information officer at Commerce, said the department's IT projects are well-funded at almost $1.1 billion.
Unlike other agencies, the Defense Department plans to use non-IT-related budget areas - a lower inflation rate, lower fuel prices, outsourcing, base closures and re-engineered business practices - to fund IT programs. Defense Secretary William Cohen called the department's streamlining efforts "imperative" to freeing up billions of dollars for modernization and readiness.
Network Research Boosted
Clinton also proposed spending $366 million on IT research to improve the speed, reliability and usability of computers and networks. The funds would be divided among the National Science Foundation, DOD, DOE, the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Agencies would distribute most of the money to universities and other nongovernmental researchers, but agencies would use 40 percent of the funds for their own projects. The program, called Information Technology for the 21st Century, would carry out recommendations from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, which said last year that the government needs to spend more money researching the building blocks of computing.
Reception to the Clinton budget's IT-intensive performance goals was mixed. "It's certain that the goals are solid and good ones," said Virginia Thomas, senior fellow for government studies at the Heritage Foundation, a public policy think tank. "But the devil is always in the details."
A spokesman for the House Science Committee said the list of goals seems to be on target, but he added that IT must be coupled with sound decisions to produce results.
"It does appear that the administration does realize that IT is not the total solution as some of these things go, but [it] can be used to improve performance," he said. Moreover, agencies have to know how to use IT effectively; IT alone will not lead to results, according to the spokesman. "You can have the best-running car, but if you don't know how to work a clutch, it's not going to work."
A spokesman for House Budget Committee chairman Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) said committee members would have to sort through the details of the budget before making any judgment on the importance of the president's management goals.
Y2K still key issue, but funding not priority
President Clinton placed the Year 2000 problem at the top of his 24-item list of management goals for fiscal 2000, but much of the funding for fixing computers for the Year 2000 occurred last year.
The Clinton administration already has dug into a $2.25 billion Year 2000 emergency fund that Congress established last year. According to the budget, $1.26 billion has been doled out to agencies. The remaining money will be available until the end of fiscal 2001 (see table at right). The budget also advises Congress that the Office of Management and Budget soon may release an additional$1.1 billion for the Defense Department to pay for fixing its systems.
The Year 2000 date-change problem remains a top management priority for the government, but at the Justice Department, finding funds for the problem is not a top budget issue.
"I hope and I pray...that we will have addressed that problem in the 1999 [budget] process," said Stephen Colgate, assistant attorney general for administration at DOJ. "It really is a '99 funding issue."
Harold Gracey, chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said, "Very soon you'll see we're done worrying about our systems and their interfacing with other systems."
OMB reflects agencies' sentiments. It estimates that spending on Year 2000 will drop to $641.3 million in fiscal 2000, down from $2.27 billion this fiscal year and about $2.6 billion in fiscal 1998.
Other Fiscal 2000 IT Funding:
* $188.9 million for the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which will replace the hardware, software and controller workstations at terminal facilities.
* $1.4 billion to fight terrorism in cyberspace. Clinton plans $500 million for a new critical infrastructure applied-research initiative. A portion of the funds will be spent on an effort to create linked computer intrusion networks for civilian agencies. The system would notify system administrators when their computers are under attack.
* An Agriculture Department request for $90 million, an increase of $40 million, for the Service Center Implementation program, which will co-locate farm service agencies to provide one-stop shopping for farmers.
* $21.3 million for the newly created Office of Information and Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
* $200 million to run the Treasury Communications System, the department's national data network.
* More than $800 million on information technology programs at the Energy Department, including $542.5 million, a 12 percent increase, for the agency's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative used to simulate nuclear weapons tests.
* $50 million to enhance the Integrated Surveillance Information System, which the Immigration and Naturalization Service uses to check for illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border with Mexico.