Agencies to shift e-gov priorities

Staying the course on current projects is emphasis of '05 budget

"Enterprise architecture is going to serve as the focal point for all the difficult decisions we will have to make to close [IT purchasing] transactions." ? Robert McFarland, Veteran Affairs Department

Susan Whitney-Wilkerson

President Bush's fiscal 2005 budget reflects a slight shift away from creating new e-government projects to a focus on maintaining existing IT projects and shoring up network security, according to industry and government officials.

The proposed budget also highlights the government's continued emphasis on creating a federal enterprise architecture to facilitate expansion of e-government services by pinpointing areas where departments and agencies can collaborate and consolidate IT networks and databases.

"We are working to set a new phase two of the e-government initiative," said Robert Dix, staff director for the technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and census subcommittee of the House's Government Reform Committee. The next steps for agencies will be in human resources, accounting, public health case-management and grants management.

"Blueprints for these are outlined in the federal enterprise architecture to ensure interoperability, compatibility and linking the lines of government with business at large," Dix said.

Dix spoke earlier this month at Federal Sources Inc.'s annual federal outlook conference, where industry and government experts closely examined the administration's 2005 budget request of $60 billion for IT products and services.

Analysts said systems integrators shouldn't be up in arms about the president's decision to raise the IT budget by a mere 1 percent for 2005. Other areas of government were slashed in the face of the spiraling budget deficit.

Furthermore, market research firm FSI predicted that IT spending likely will exceed $61 billion in 2005 because spending usually exceeds the planned budget. The official IT budget also excludes some projects, such as command and control systems, embedded and classified IT, and IT-related professional and technical services.

The Defense Department will account for $27.4 billion in IT spending in 2005, approximately $362 million more than in 2004, according to the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees federal spending.

Civilian homeland security agencies, excluding the Commerce Department, will receive $10.3 billion, about $500 million more than last year. Other civilian agencies will get the remaining $22 billion, $300 million less than last year.

Previous IT budgets stressed new IT projects for the president's e-government initiatives to provide more online services for citizens, while lowering costs for government.

But this year's IT budget priorities mark a slight policy shift away from new e-government projects, many of which are under way and have been passed off to back offices to run.

"New contracts are becoming less important, with the General Services Administration placing more emphasis on existing orders," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer for McLean, Va.-based FSI.

Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget has mandated that IT systems must be secure as more data passes through them so that they are safe from hackers and terrorists trying to infiltrate them.

The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, plans to incorporate a combined network and operations security center along with firewalls in its agencywide network, said Robert McFarland, the agency's assistant secretary for information and technology.

The budget request also reflected the White House's push for agencies to establish a federal enterprise architecture.

"Enterprise architecture is going to serve as the focal point for all the difficult decisions we will have to make to close [IT purchasing] transactions," McFarland said.

His department, as well as several others, is modernizing and unifying its IT network and systems and will complete its fourth phase of these efforts at the end of August.

As part of the shift, the Defense Department and homeland security agencies are moving beyond their usual IT spending to take advantage of wartime spending that "recognizes the IT value of weapons systems," in keeping with one of the Bush administration's top priorities of fighting terrorism, according to FSI's report on the outlook for the federal IT market outlook.

Besides the Defense Department, much of the IT demand will come from security and intelligence agencies as well as from the Homeland Security Department, which is still blending the 22 diverse agencies it absorbed and melding their networks.

The top 20 federal agencies comprise almost 90 percent of the 2005 IT budget, with the remaining agencies taking up the last $6.6 billion, according to FSI.

Five of the top 10 are defense- and security-related: the Navy with $6.6 billion; Air Force with $6.4 billion; Army with $5.5 billion; Homeland Security Department with $4.4 billion; and the Defense Information Systems Agency with $4.1 billion.

But FSI also noted that funds for the Navy, Army and DISA will decrease in 2005 year because of "reassigned missions and program maturity" that affect their spending, while the Air Force's budget has risen 12 percent, and DHS' budget has climbed 8 percent.

The Defense Department will allot a hefty $19 billion to warfighting systems and $6.6 billion to information and technology management, representing 1.2 percent and 7 percent increases, respectively, over last year's spending, according to FSI.

Civilian agencies will focus on maintaining support of existing IT projects rather than purchasing new systems. They will spend a good portion of their 2005 IT budgets on health and education systems ($9.3 billion) and information and technology management ($9.1 billion), though these areas are seeing decreases of 1.2 percent and 1.7 percent, respectfully, compared with last year.

Civilian agencies will spend 26.5 percent more this year on general science and innovation IT, 12.1 percent more on community and social services, 6.4 percent more on justice and public safety, 5.9 percent more on financial assistance management, and 5.3 percent more on financial management, according to FSI.

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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