2013 budget proposal puts IT on short leash

The Obama administration proposes a slight decrease in federal IT spending in 2013, with many of its funded projects aimed at realizing further savings down the road.

Overall, the budget calls for spending $78.8 billion, a 1.2 percent decrease from 2012.

The Defense Department takes the biggest hit overall, with a drop of 3.6 percent, which more than offsets a 1.1 percent gain in civilian agencies.

However, many of the IT projects highlighted in the budget apparently received support because of their potential to improve the efficiency of agency operations by modernizing and enhancing existing systems. The budget also highlights ongoing efforts to save money through data center consolidation and cloud computing.

One idea is to create a “data center marketplace,” in which agencies in need of new computing power can be steered toward unused capacity available within government.

And the hunt for additional savings will continue.

“In 2012, agency CIOs will be reviewing entire agency IT portfolios for potential savings, prioritizing cloud implementation, commodity IT [purchasing] and intra-agency shared services,” the budget document states.

Administration officials also plan to shift IT spending from the traditional model of multi-year capital investments to the operational side of the budget, giving them more flexibility.

Here is the breakdown of each agency’s budget request:

DOD: A third year of decline

Echoing earlier declarations that the Defense Department would slash its massive budget and zero in on efficiency measures, top DOD officials in a Pentagon briefing outlined the proposed defense spending plan for 2013, the third consecutive year of real decline in a defense budget, according to DOD comptroller Robert Hale.

Obama’s budget request to Congress includes $613 billion in total defense spending. Of that, $525.4 billion will go toward the base budget, down $5.2 billion from fiscal 2012, and $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations, mostly in Afghanistan, which is $26.6 billion less than fiscal 2012.

Top priorities for reducing spending and achieving efficiencies include the use of enterprise IT, force reductions, further rounds of Base Realignment and Closure, and prioritized investment in areas such as science and technology, cyber capabilities and unmanned systems, among others.

“This budget creates a joint force that is lean, adaptable, ready, networked and technologically advanced. It will be capable across all domains and globally engaged,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry Spencer, the director of force structure, resources and assessment at the Joint Staff, said in a Feb. 13 Pentagon press briefing. “We have heeded the lessons from 10 years of war and have protected and prioritized investments in areas such as cyber, special operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets."

According to DOD, the proposal is on track to cut $487 billion over the next decade, including $259 billion in savings in the next five years, as mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act. The proposal includes more than $60 billion in savings through 2017.

VA: Investing in vets

As one of the few departments eyed for a budget increase, the Veterans Affairs Department is slated for $61 billion in discretionary budget authority under the plan, up from $58.5 billion this year. The proposed VA budget “continues historic levels of support to veterans and their families,” the budget statement says.

That includes rising support for veterans’ medical care, forecast at $52.7 billion, up from $50.6 billion this year. The department’s IT budget would receive $3.3 billion under the plan, up from $3.1 billion this year.

IT goals include “efficiency and responsiveness by continuing the implementation of the paperless system and transformation efforts that will provide faster and more accurate benefits claims processing and improve veterans’ access to benefits information,” the budget states.

Specifically, the request includes $128 million for the Veterans Benefit Management System, designed to reduce processing time, eliminate the backlog of claims, improve quality through rules-based tools, and automate claims tracking.

DHS: Save here, spend there

The budget proposal is asking for a nearly flat discretionary budget of $39.5 billion for the Homeland Security Department, just a slight decrease from the current enacted level of $39.6 billion.

To keep major initiatives in border security, aviation, preparedness and cyber programs intact or growing, the administration is forecasting $853 million in savings at DHS from reductions in overhead costs such as travel, overtime, fleet management and in “duplicative and low-priority programs.”

“Tough choices were made to meet the discretionary targets in place,” the budget document states. “These savings help enable increased funding for core homeland security functions such as cybersecurity, border protection and aviation security.”

The largest new program proposed for DHS is $1 billion to spur new firefighter hiring nationwide, along with incentives to recruit post-9/11 veterans for those jobs. 

The $1 billion in funding for firefighter hiring is part of a $2.9 billion allocation to Federal Emergency Management Agency for consolidated state and local grants to equip, train, exercise and hire first responders. The grants will be awarded on a risk basis. In addition, a series of measures will be put into place to speed up spending of $9 billion in previously awarded grants in the pipeline.

The budget request includes $769 million for the National Cyber Security Division, which protects federal computer systems and also works with state and local government and the critical infrastructure sector to help safeguard their networks.

DHS agencies that would get increased discretionary funding under the proposal, in comparison to the current fiscal year, include Customs and Border Protection, $10.4 billion, up from $10.1 billion; FEMA, $4.5 billion, up from $4.3 billion; and Science and Technology Directorate, $831 million, up from $668 million.

DHS agencies slated for reductions include Coast Guard, $8.3 billion, down from $8.7 billion; Transportation Security Administration, $5.1 billion, down from $5.4 billion; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $5.3 billion, down from $5.5 billion.

Commerce: Comms up, admin down

The budget proposal contains $5 billion for the Commerce Department, up by $380 million from 2012 and providing support for what the administration calls critical satellite and public-safety communications programs. The increase would be offset somewhat by proposed reductions in administrative costs.

Ten billion dollars earmarked for an interoperable public-safety broadband network will be paid for from the auction of public radio spectrum that will be used to expand commercial wireless broadband services.

The bulk of the budget, $5 billion, would go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This includes $1.8 billion to continue the development and acquisition of weather and climate satellite systems called critical NOAA’s core mission of accurate weather forecasting.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories would receive $708 million, an increase of $86 million over 2012 levels for what the administration calls investments in the country’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness.

“This funding will accelerate advances in a variety of important areas, ranging from next-generation robotics and smart manufacturing to nanotechnology and cybersecurity,” the proposal says.

The budget supports a National Wireless Initiative that would provide $10 billion for a public safety broadband network from a spectrum auction. This includes $7 billion for development and construction of the network as well as $3 billion worth of additional radio spectrum in 700 MHz D Block. Up to $300 million of the $7 billion development fund will go to a Wireless Innovation Fund for development of technologies and standards for interoperable first responder communications.

The budget also would reduce funding for Economic Development Assistance grant programs and for conservation programs similar to those in other agencies. Administrative expenses would be trimmed by $34 million, on top of savings of $142 million claimed for fiscal 2012.

SBA: Savings through IT

The Small Business Administration would get a 3-percent increase compared to what it received in fiscal 2012. The fiscal 2013 budget would give the agency $949 million and an additional $167 million of disaster funding.

To save money though, the administration proposes ending the Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs Technical Assistance program, which helps to educate low-income business owners on expanding their companies. The budget also includes an overall 8-percent reduction in technical assistance programs. The programs help small businesses in various ways including competing for federal contracts.

While cutting programs, the administration wants to modernize parts of SBA to save money. Officials say the agency could save $12 million over five years by moving its IT networks and applications to the cloud. During the past seven years, SBA officials have been working on the agency's loan management and accounting system, although progress been slow, according to reports.

OPM: Looking to the future

The 2013 budget would provide the Office of Personnel Management $90.54 million, of which $642,000 could be for strengthening the capacity and skills of the acquisition workforce. More specifically, the focus would be hiring, training and retention of the acquisition workforce and IT that support the efficiency of the employees.

OPM’s Employee Services program, which provides leadership and guidance to federal agencies on governmentwide human-resources policies, requests $34 million for 2013, which is the same number as in 2011. OPM’s Office of the Chief Information Officer is seeking $10 million in funding -- $12 million less than last year. Additionally, planning and policy analysis programs will get $4 million less than last year, with a request for $8 million.

Although the budget proposal ends the current two-year pay federal freeze and gives government employees give feds a 0.5 percent pay raise, it also proposes increases to federal employees’ contributions to their retirements. Under the proposal, retirement contributions would increase by 1.2 percent over three years, starting 2013. Employee pensions would remain unchanged; however, the administration is proposing to eliminate the Federal Employees Retirement System Annuity Supplement for new employees.

The administration is also recommending Congress establish a Commission on Federal Public Service Reform comprised of members of Congress, representatives from the President’s Labor-Management Council, members of the private sector, and academic experts. The commission would work to develop recommendations on reforms to modernize federal personnel policies and practices within fiscal constraints, including pay and and personnel performance

USDA: Getting smaller

The Agriculture Department’s budget decreases by roughly $700 million, or 3 percent, for fiscal 2013. The administration proposed $23 billion for the department. The department is also looking for savings in decrease its workforce through early retirements and targeted buyouts by more than 15 agencies and offices. Officials estimate about 900 fewer employees than in 2012.

GSA: Boost to e-gov fund

Obama is also asking for $17 million for the Electronic Government Fund, an increase of $m billion from his request in fiscal 2012. In its omnibus appropriations bill, Congress gave the fund $12.4 million. The money in the fund aids in interagency efforts to develop innovative uses of the Internet to people and businesses simpler access to government information. It also gives money for making the government paperless when it makes sense.

The administration wants to decrease the Federal Citizens Services Fund by $2 million from the fiscal 2012 appropriation. Obama proposed $32 million. Through the fund, agencies develop new ways for citizens and businesses to easily get information and services from the government on the web, via email, in print, and over the telephone.

Treasury: Banking on consolidation

Obama’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget provides $14 billion in total budgetary resources for the Treasury Department, a reduction of 2.7 percent below the 2012 enacted level when Internal Revenue Service funding is excluded. The department is looking to reduce administrative costs through IT consolidation and other efficiency initiatives, according to the 2013 budget.

The administration proposes more than $100 million in reduced Treasury administrative costs through IT consolidations, teleworking implementation, efficiency initiatives and other overhead reductions consistent with the President’s Campaign to Cut Waste.

Specifically, the budget includes consolidation of Treasury data centers and a Paperless Treasury initiative that will save an estimated $500 million over five years, administration officials said. As part of its Paperless Treasury initiative, the department is using electronic payments rather than paper Social Security checks for new beneficiaries, such as the millions of baby boomers and others applying for federal benefits. Additionally, Treasury has increased the use of electronic financial transactions for commerce while working to ensure currency and coin production is efficient and secure.