Talk, dollars don't add up

Fiscal 2002 budget

For much of the presidential campaign and during his short three months in office, President Bush has signaled a desire to use information technology to continue to transform government services. But it is difficult to reconcile his rhetoric with the IT funding in his 2002 budget request released last week.

According to the budget, Bush proposes to increase federal IT spending by a mere 0.9 percent, or $400 million, to $44.8 billion. It is difficult to compare that increase with past administrations' IT budget requests, because only recently did the Clinton administration carve out IT spending as a separate item.

But it is safe to say that the increase is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, in recent memory and comes at a time when agencies are using it to transform their bureaucracies into more streamlined and accountable operations.

Bush does set aside $20 million — twice what he proposed a month ago — for cross-agency e-government initiatives. The federal IT community praised Bush for recognizing the importance of e-government, but they added that the money is barely enough to make a difference.

The same thing goes for the overall IT budget. Agencies need money for information security, to continue to modernize outdated systems and to comply with laws that require them, for example, to make their systems accessible to the disabled, just to name a few items on the IT to-do list.

As this week's cover story pointed out, Bush's proposed IT budget is a first whack, and it will become more solid as more federal IT executives are hired — especially a deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget — and when the Bush administration becomes more familiar and comfortable with agencies' IT programs and goals.

Agencies can only hope that is the case and that the new administration will stick to its earlier statements that IT is the key to improving the way government works and how it delivers services to the public.

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