Election aftershocks could hit IT agenda

As the dust settles after the midterms elections, no one in the federal IT community should be lulled into complacency by the thought that IT, after all, is a bipartisan issue.

It’s true that the big items on the federal IT agenda — procurement reform, insourcing, open government, etc. — were not hot topics in election year debates. It’s also true that IT programs often draw support from both political parties.

But government and industry officials who hope to ride out the coming shift in the balance of power could be in for a rude awakening.

Former Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who chaired the Government Reform Committee (now the Oversight and Government Reform Committee) until Democrats won the house in 2006, said cutting-edge IT programs will be fair game for increased scrutiny, oversight and cost reduction.

“It is a new environment,” said Davis, who now leads federal government relations at Deloitte. The new House “will change operations. I imagine some of the innovations will be collateral damage along the way.”

Case in point: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is expected to take over the committee when the new Congress takes office, and that is likely to usher in an age of more exacting oversight, said Larry Allen, president and CEO of Allen Federal Business Partners. He recently ended a lengthy tenure as president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

Also, the penalties for failed risk-taking are likely to be higher with a politically divided Congress, Davis said.

“Many times I’ve seen someone step outside the box, but those best efforts are not always successful, and the [executives in charge] can get laid out for it,” he said. "That creates a chilling response."

Davis predicted that large weapons and complex programs at the Defense Department and large enterprise modernization programs at other federal agencies are likely to be targets for cuts.

However, some experts said the new Congress won't be able to put the brakes on some innovative efforts.

Gwynne Kostin, co-director of the Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement at the General Services Administration, said her agency made progress on several fronts by using cloud computing, social media, innovation challenges and contests to foster open government, collaboration and public participation.

“We will not turn back,” Kostin said. “The future is really bright.”

Jennifer Kerber, vice president of federal and homeland security policy at TechAmerica, said IT is a bipartisan issue. It helps the government in many ways, including cutting costs and rooting out fraud and waste.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, said the power shift won't change the spotlight on the role of contractors in government. However, insourcing efforts are likely to slow as the new congressional leaders consider the efficiency of federal and contract employees, he said.

“The budget will be austere, and agencies will be pressed to stretch their dollars,” said Chvotkin. "This could affect already planned procurements or new spending in the pipeline for [fiscal] 2011."

The new House majority will focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of federal employees and contractors, he added.

"Agency budgets are likely to get even tighter if the majority holds to its campaign promises to cut the budget and reduce the deficit," Chvotkin said. "The question is not if there will be cuts, but where and how deeply. This year, it appears even DOD is not exempt from scrutiny."

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