Government still playing catch-up on IT

President Clinton's 2001 budget request for information technology is a larger percentage of the federal budget, but not nearly enough when compared to how much the private sector is spending on IT, according to one industry analyst.

At the Virtual Government 2000 conference in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of IT specialists gathered on Feb. 23, Thomas Hewitt, the former chief executive officer of Federal Sources Inc., compared federal spending to private industry and said much more money is needed to keep the federal government up-to-date on technology.

"Relative to the Internet economy we're in...that doesn't look like the right kind of budget today for the environment we have," said Hewitt, now president of Global Governments Inc., an IT research and consulting firm he founded in McLean, Va.

Although a number of federal agencies were big winners in Clinton's $1.84 trillion budget request that included $39.7 billion for IT, Hewitt said private industry is spending at least double that to keep pace with the newest IT developments.

The Social Security Administration, for example, is requesting a 12 percent increase in its IT budget. By comparison, a large insurance company is allocating almost double that for IT — a 20 percent increase.

Nevertheless, Sallie Katzen, counselor to the director at the Office of Management and Budget, said IT money this year is being carefully evaluated and spent, reflecting the president's vision for an electronic government.

But she warned that the "bar will be higher" when budget makers decide how much and where to spend IT money next year.

Even so, John Callahan, the chief information and financial officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said his agency may be asking for even more money for IT initiatives.

"We are IT-dependent to the max. We are not going backwards. There is no way to go back. We are following the trends in the private sector," Callahan said.

The president's budget request is at the beginning of an arduous journey through Congress, which must approve every cent before it can be spent. To download a report on IT spending for fiscal 1999, 2000 and 2001, visit www.cio.gov.

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