Bush IT budget promotes info sharing, security

U.S. president George W. Bush wants to knock down federal agency IT silos, integrate systems and develop the means to quickly share information across government agencies and businesses. And across the board, he wants to beef up IT security.

Security was the underlying theme of the US$52 billion IT budget that the Bush administration proposed last week for fiscal 2003, which starts in October. That’s about a 15 per cent increase over this year’s budget, but US$3.3 billion of the US$52 billion is actually being spent this year, so the net increase is about eight per cent, according to Input, a Chantilly, Va.-based firm that studies government spending.

The proposed budget calls for the creation of an Information Integration Office, which would map out a plan for improving information sharing among federal, state and local government agencies as well as certain industries, such as credit reporting firms.

The goal is to make information available quickly in times of need. “This lack of effective information sharing . . . slows our ability to detect and respond to incidents,” said Kenneth Juster, undersecretary of Commerce for export administration, at a briefing.

The budget would also expand programs that have already paid dividends to companies that sell to the federal government. “We have groups of people who now sit in their offices and do business through different Web-based technologies . . . as opposed to some guy getting in a car and driving around town,” said Steve Carrier, vice-president for business development at Los Angeles-based defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. “Those are all cost-savers to us.”

But the broad intent of this year’s IT budget is to “unify hundreds of redundant government computer systems across agencies that act as islands of automation,” the administration said. According to the budget document, these systems “have held back necessary productivity gains.” Information-sharing initiatives would account for US$722 million of next year’s IT spending if Congress approves the budget.

The main obstacle to this initiative may not be technical. “The federal government is a very stovepipe organization,” said Payton Smith, an analyst at Input. “In general, federal agencies aren’t used to working with one another.”

Mark Forman, who is emerging as the administration’s top IT budget official at the Office of Management and Budget, recently gave a presentation in which he emphasized “knowledge-based solutions” and supply chain management as being part of the administration’s goal. Creating a strong business case for spending is critical, Forman said.

“We want to know how much an agency is going to improve its mission performance as a result of its IT investment,” Forman said. “We’re clearly going to ramp up the demand for [IT] services.”