Federal Government IT Priorities: Vision Vs. Reality

Bold plans for cybersecurity, disaster recovery planning, virtualization and data center consolidation are hindered by 2014 budget realities.
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Tech Priorities

A raft of White House directives and budget proposals over the past year has added pressure on federal agencies to make government information more accessible and secure -- and do it all with fewer resources. Legislators, meanwhile, have been drumming up various bills aimed at getting the government to better manage the more than $80 billion it spends annually on IT and related services. For federal IT leaders, however, the list of priorities remains far more complex than what's emanating from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, according to InformationWeek's new Federal Government IT Priorities Survey.

Topping that list of federal IT priorities as agencies head into fiscal year 2014 (starting in October) are cybersecurity, disaster recovery planning, data records management, virtualization and data center consolidation (see chart at right). Then there's the standard heavy lifting around storage, application performance, and upgrading PCs and laptops. Infrastructure projects in particular got put on the back burner of many agencies as they scrambled to address higher-profile needs, notes Vance Hitch, a senior adviser at Deloitte Consulting and former CIO of the Department of Justice. "But you can only postpone equipment refreshes for so long," he says.

While the White House announced in April that it was budgeting $82 billion for federal IT in fiscal 2014, a 2.1% increase from 2013, dollars are still tight. When asked about the biggest barriers to effectively executing IT projects at their organizations, 39% of respondents to our survey cited the lack of budget as No. 1. That's up from 35% a year ago. The No. 2 barrier, cited by 27% of respondents, is conflicting or poorly defined requirements.

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The report includes the complete findings, with more than two dozen charts, from this year's annual survey of federal IT leaders.
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Compounding those pressures will be increased scrutiny expected under the administration's new "data-driven results" policy. Agency leaders, who are still getting used to the Office of Management and Budget's PortfolioStat IT investment review sessions, will soon be asked to "show me the data" to prove that IT projects are worth the investment.

When it comes to federal IT spending, "there are more tensions between OMB and agencies" than ever before, says one former federal CIO who asked not to be identified. Sequestration is one reason, he says. Meantime, the mandates for IPv6 and HSPD-12 common identification standards for federal employees and contractors haven't been relaxed, "but there is even less funding," the former CIO says.

Two-thirds (66%) of the 155 federal government IT leaders who responded to this year's survey said their top priorities are being driven by agency or organizational initiatives. About half (48%) said their priorities are being dictated by OMB directives or by policies from federal CIO Steven VanRoekel's office. More than a third pointed to legislative requirements (36%), and 32% said they were complying with National Institute of Standards and Technology and similar policy standards.

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Editor's Choice
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer