Will IT spending survive coming budget battle?

Budget 'rosier than expected,' reflecting role of technology as money-saver, analyst says.

capitol dome and bills

Acquisition experts looking to tease some nuance out of the budget numbers for federal IT spent a frustrating day refreshing the government IT Dashboard looking for program-level details on funding requests.

Overall, the $82 billion IT budget request was "rosier than some people expected," said John Slye, an advisory research analyst at Deltek. "Most folks were expecting some significant cuts or flat spending. It just goes to show that, even in a very constrained budget environment, agencies are going to turn to technology as a smart way to get savings and efficiencies."

Compared to some of the more controversial aspects of the Obama administration's budget for fiscal 2014, such as a proposed tobacco tax and changes to tax code that would trim deductions enjoyed by the wealthiest Americans, the IT spending request is not expected to raise too many hackles on Capitol Hill. Slye pointed out that in the past two decades, the IT budget passed by Congress typically exceeded requests, regardless of the party alignments of Congress and the White House.

"I don't think this part of the budget is adversarial," Slye said. "We'll see if that changes under the Ryan budget and with the Senate. But I haven't seen a break in that historical trend."

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) greeted the administration budget like a dead letter in an April 11 hearing. Republicans on the panel challenged Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, but mostly on issues such as new tax revenues and the budget scoring methodology. Ryan's budget plan, passed by the House in March, seeks savings of as much of $20 billion from the $80 billion annual IT outlay.

In an April 10 briefing, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel said the administration seeks savings on overall federal IT spending through the modernization of systems, streamlined services and data center consolidation. VanRoekel is being tasked with developing innovation strategies for programs across government and not just in IT. He said the plan is "to take the same best practices we've been driving inside federal IT and expand it into a broader, evidence-based agenda."

Vendors could benefit from having an IT specialist develop such strategies, but the $14 million in proposed initial funding for the effort is just a blip in the overall federal IT budget. Nevertheless, those niche projects are indicative of an overall trend toward innovation, Slye said.

"When you're in a budgetary environment when keeping the lights on is the primary focus, the way they're going to fund innovations is by saving on redundancies on the other side," he said.

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