Agencies back in planning mode

The budget deal struck in January has introduced a semblance of predictability for feds and contractors.

capitol dome and bills

Agency CIOs are back at the drawing board, confidently planning long-term modernization and improvements with a two-year budget deal in place.

While the IT spending portion of President Barack Obama's 2015 budget request was the ostensible topic at the annual Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Agency breakfast on March 26, it was the deal in Congress for an end to the sequestration regime that introduced new predictability to feds and contractors.

"Last year I was joking about COBOL as a service," said Cheryl Cook, CIO of the Department of Agriculture. "We're doing better this year than last year. I don't think anyone is feeling smug."

At USDA, some of the big IT efforts center on a gradual move to open-plan offices and encouraging telework. The agency is also looking to encourage other feds to buy into its homegrown cloud service, run by the National IT Center in Kansas City. There's also an effort to expand the reach of its National Finance Center in New Orleans, which already handles payroll for 600,000 USDA workers and 500,000 others across the federal space as a shared services provider.

Most of the action at the Commerce Department is in the federated agency components such as NOAA, the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said CIO Simon Szykman. Overall, Commerce’s fiscal 2015 IT budget request is up $100 million over 2014, with most of that increase taken up by planning for the 2020 census.

"There is a long ramp" to conducting the decennial enumeration, and big changes are afoot in the way Census Bureau workers do their jobs. A cloud-based application that workers access securely using their own devices is one option  on the table. At Commerce headquarters, Szykman is pushing to meet White House cybersecurity goals, reaching 95 percent coverage of department systems with continuous monitoring infrastructure by the end of the year.

The General Services Administration has big plans for the next five years, said acting CIO Sonny Hashmi. On the infrastructure side, the agency is looking to make sure that its real estate holdings are modernized to handle the IT demands of 21st century government. Hashmi noted that prospective tenants inspect office space with their IT support staff in tow, to make sure the networks are up to snuff. In the future, he hopes that network pipes and wireless will be thought of as commodities, like plumbing or electricity. While Hashmi expects this to require some upfront investment, he sees the effort paying off in the long term.

Internally, GSA has transformed its headquarters into a modular workspace and mobility driven environment, and it's trying to refashion its computing style to match. Hashmi said he expects about half the department to be converted to virtual desktop infrastructure by the end of fiscal 2014, and up to 80 percent by the end of next year. "That's going to be a big play for us," he said.

Keynote speaker Lisa Schlosser, deputy associate administrator of the  Office of E-Government and Information Technology in the Office of Management and Budget, previewed the soon-to-be updated Federal IT Dashboard site, noting that the government reported $403 million in savings from PortfolioStat reviews for the first quarter of fiscal 2014, and that overall savings total $1.6 billion , out of a goal of a goal of $2.5 billion by the end of fiscal 2015.

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