IT needs more funding

The federal information technology community is breathing a collective sigh

of relief.

A budget season that started out looking gloomy for IT funding turned

out to be a bonanza. In this week's cover story on the fiscal 2001 budget

that Congress passed — for the most part — in the past few weeks, many federal

IT professionals are almost giddy about the money they received.

It's hard to blame them. For months, Congress criticized and threatened

to cut numerous IT programs, everything from President Clinton's Federal

Cyber Services program, which aims to shore up information security at agencies

and to attract fresh IT talent to the federal government, to broad modernization

programs such as the Navy's intranet program, which will tie together its

disparate networks worldwide. But in the end, the money flowed.

Well, sort of. What we may be observing is a federal workforce so terrified

that it was going to go wanting for IT funds that a few crumbs seem like

a generous helping. Consider information security. This was supposed to

be the year that security took center stage in the IT arena. But Clinton

received only half of what was considered a modest information security

budget request.

Congress threw some specific money at security. But major programs are

still underfunded, leaving agencies and the White House to borrow from other

IT programs if they want to adequately protect federal systems. Under the

Federal Cyber Services program, the National Science Foundation received

money to offer scholarships to students, but the Office of Personnel Management

received nothing for training and certifying federal IT workers in security.

The Treasury Department received only partial funding for public-key infrastructure

initiatives.

No one disputes the importance of information security, so it is difficult

to arrive at an explanation for why Congress is unwilling to provide the

proper funding. Before Congress holds another hearing to beat agencies over

the head about security, legislators should consider whether they have given

agencies adequate resources to do the job.

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