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Annual budgets: Rethinking a legacy of the Cold War

Can continually hammering on the idea that the federal budget cycle no long works make Congress change?

“The annual budget cycle is a Cold War creation” and doesn’t work in today’s world, Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan this morning.

That cycle doesn’t keep up with how quickly the world changes, especially in modern contingencies of war, he said.

Further, Office of Management and Budget officials pointed out the slow pace of the budget cycle related to buying IT. In its 25-point plan for federal reforms, released in December, officials dedicate a full section simply to the issue of the reworking budget.

“To deploy IT successfully, agencies need the ability to make final decisions on technology solutions at the point of execution, not years in advance,” according to the OMB report.

OMB wants flexible budgetary models for IT purchases and budgets that allow for buying technology as it changes. Such fixes, OMB says, will waste less money "and improve the timeliness and effectiveness of provided solutions."

However, Capitol Hill isn’t likely to budge on the budget. It’s the check on power and authority over agency officials. Members of the House and Senate want to halt projects by removing the funding if they see a need. They want to give their green light to projects, and tie provisions to a project for all sorts of reasons. A change might tip that power in a wrong direction.

Even so, OMB has given itself until May “to create IT budget models that align with modular development” and until May 2013 “to scale flexible IT budget models more broadly.”

For any such change, administration officials would benefit by targeting the young members of Congress, those who were in elementary school during the Cold War.

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:11 PM

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