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The 2013 IT budget? Yawn.

Traditionally, the annual release of the president's budget request is an exciting time at Federal Computer Week. Every year, we get the budget document as soon as its available and have our reporters comb through it in exacting detail, looking for everything of interest to our readers -- from the grandest IT initiatives to the smallest nuggets of funding for small, but interesting, projects.

This year was no exception. We got President Barack Obama's request for fiscal 2013 -- online, not in print -- and had our staff pore over it, as always. But this time, there wasn't much to find. At least, not in the technology policy arena.

Grand IT initiatives? Forget it. 2013 isn't a year for expansion or striking out down new roads. Small, but interesting, projects? There are a few, but only a few.

Mostly, this year's budget proposal is about saving money, cutting costs. What innovation there is centered around gaining efficiencies and reducing expenses. A number of programs will lose funding, in part or in full, at least for the year. And the outlook for future years isn't likely to be better.

That's not to say there aren't interesting ideas. The push to consolidate data centers is there, and so is the suggestion of creating a “data center marketplace,” in which agencies in need of new computing power can be steered toward unused capacity available within government. And noting which programs would lose funds under the request, such as the Justice Department's Integrated Wireless Network, is important. But still, there's much less to be said than in most years.

It doesn't help that the president's budget is never the budget that gets enacted. Everyone knows that it will be subject to debate, compromise and often replacement as it wends its way through Congress. Whatever budget finally does pass is certain to bear little resemblance to the request released Feb. 13. In years in which there are bold proposals and fresh initiatives, that matters less, because the prominent parts of the president's request form the centerpiece of the debate and often end up passing more or less intact. In a year where there are no such proposals, there's much less to say.

So how do we cover the budget in such a year? Diligently, because it still matters, but with greater difficulty. Congressional counter-proposals, due to be expressed in appropriations bills later this year, take on great importance. But the president's request matters, even if it leads to no actual funding, because it expresses the administration's priorities. If Obama is re-elected this year, the proposals in the budget will likely remain policy priorities in his second term. So the budget request isn't a moot point, just not a terribly interesting one.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Feb 17, 2012 at 12:18 PM


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