Labor budget boosts GovBenefits

GovBenefits

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The Bush administration is requesting $56.2 billion for the Labor Department for fiscal 2004, with $417 million earmarked for IT spending.

Although the IT budget is 6 percent less than requested for 2003, the department plans to continue funding the growing GovBenefits initiative and give its financial management systems a large boost.

The GovBenefits Web site is a centralized portal that offers citizens benefits program information and determines their eligibility. The Labor Department is a managing partner in the initiative with several other agencies, including the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.

The site, launched in April 2002, now offers access to 200 benefits programs. Labor's chief information officer Patrick Pizzella said the initiative is still in the early stages, but from April to December last year, the site received more than 3 million hits. The Bush administration is asking for $10.7 million for the project, a slight increase over fiscal 2003.

"It's a useful tool for citizens," Pizzella said. "It hopefully saves people the trouble of dialing all those phone numbers and [gets them] answers quicker."

The budget also asks for $20 million for a new core financial management system, nearly 10 times the amount requested in 2003. This initiative would update the department's accounting system, or "more or less develop a new one," Pizzella said. He said the project likely would take several years.

"It's just time to modernize it," he said. "We made a specific effort to obtain some money for that. It would just help us as a department."

Of the department's requested $417 million for IT, $48.6 million would be dedicated to cross-cutting initiatives, programs that affect the entire department rather than individual sectors.

"It forces you to make better decisions and forces managers to think twice because they know it's going to be scrutinized from a departmentwide standpoint," Pizzella said.

This money would fund such initiatives as the enterprise architecture and IT security and infrastructure. For example, the department is implementing a common e-mail system.

Other IT items in the budget include:

* $9.5 million for the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration's Employee Retirement Income Security Act Filing Acceptance System.

* $10.8 million for the eGrants electronic grant management system.

* $43 million to continue digitizing the One-Stop Career Centers.

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