White House plans to get more from agency IT spending

Guidance for 2012 budget will emphasize accountability, performance and security

Despite spending $500 billion on information technology over the past 10 years, the government is still mired in paperwork and remains unresponsive to citizens who are increasingly using online transactions in their daily lives, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said Tuesday.

“When it comes to dealing with the government, we tend to take them back a decade or two or three,” Kundra told a Washington audience composed largely of government workers. “It’s not because of a lack of investment,” but because those investments have gone into costly, overly complex projects that take on lives of their own without producing results, he said.

Kundra spoke at a government IT forum hosted by InformationWeek, during which he outlined guidance for how agencies handle IT investments in their fiscal 2012 budgets, emphasizing accountability, performance and security.

He identified three areas for guidance that will be emphasized in budget preparation:

  • Infrastructure. Agencies must plan to reduce existing facilities under the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative and expand use of emerging technology, including cloud computing, which promises increased economy and flexibility.
  • IT project management. Agency CIOs will be expected to review all over-budget or behind-schedule projects before submitting budget proposals. The administration intends to “take a hard stance in terms of performance,” by turning around or halting problem projects, Kundra said.
  • Cybersecurity. Budget proposals must reflect the trend away from static controls and check-box compliance for security requirements, and emphasize automated IT tools rather than paperwork. “What makes us more secure is real-time awareness and continuous monitoring,” he said. “Agencies must make these investments in continuous monitoring.”

Kundra emphasized the need for government to bring its budget guidance and policy into line with best practices used in the private sector, including simplified procurement to shorten project time frames, increased transparency both across government and with the public, and better analysis of the impact of projects.

The administration already has implemented a Federal IT Dashboard to show the status of agency IT programs and Kundra said that a citizens service dashboard is being created to help the public understand the impact of these programs.

Federal IT has been the victim of bureaucracy and overly long procurement cycles that have produced dinosaurs rather than agile, market-based programs, Kundra said.

But he cited several instances where agencies already have made changes, including this week’s announcement by the Treasury Department that it intends to phase out almost all paper checks for benefits payments by 2013. Recipients now can receive government payments through direct deposit to bank accounts or by debit card, but those methods will become the default for payments after March 2013.

Doing away with paper checks is expected to save the government hundreds of millions of dollars over five years as well as reduce fraud. “That’s a no-brainer,” Kundra said.

He also pointed out that NASA has halted a $1.5 billion contract to accommodate data center consolidation.

“CIOs in every department are charged with making sure they are building out this plan for consolidation” in their budgets, he said. All investments in infrastructure should be in line with requirements for reducing redundancy and improving efficiency.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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