Defending against waste

Security experts have often said that it would take a major information security breach before the White House and Congress would give agencies the money necessary to shore up federal information systems and provide much-needed systems that had yet to be funded.

Those experts seem to have been right. Spurred largely by the war on terrorism, President Bush's proposed fiscal 2003 budget for information technology would hike IT spending more than 15 percent to $52 billion, not counting the black-budget IT spending for intelligence. Congress seems ready to go along with the increase — and then some.

In the past, such increases would have been derided as an attempt to increase an already bloated government. Indeed, there's a real danger that some agencies — or some members of Congress — might seek support for projects that have only a tenuous connection to homeland security, taking money from other, more deserving projects.

But the best defense against such waste may already be in place. The Bush administration is following through on reforms started under the Clinton administration with a management spin of its own to make sure the money is well spent.

The administration will demand that agencies better manage their spending by developing business cases for IT investments and measuring outcomes — including security plans and how to integrate new systems into an agency's enterprise architecture.

Unfortunately, measuring performance and making a business case for IT investments is not easy in the public sector, and federal IT managers complain that they have received little or no guidance other than a report or two.

The Office of Management and Budget, with help from the CIO Council, needs to reach out to agencies to continually coach them in how to pitch their programs and manage those investments. Other resources are available — the Information Technology Resources Board, for example. This requires a hands-on approach, and it needs to begin now, before the spending — and the waste — begins.

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