Government Pushing To Close IT Gap

IT modernization is key to reforming government and eliminating inefficiencies, said the head of the Office of Management and Budget.
Narrowing the gap between the way the private sector and federal government use IT is a key to reforming government and getting rid of inefficiencies, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Tuesday morning in a speech at the Center for American Progress.

"Closing the IT gap is perhaps the single most important step we can take in creating a more efficient and responsive government," Orszag said, noting big differences in productivity gains in the private and public sectors in recent years. "Because the gap is so big, our historical shortcomings in IT may ironically give us a late-mover advantage by allowing us to leapfrog costly, less-developed technologies and go directly to less expensive, more powerful ones."

While Orszag's comments sound like they represent a boon for federal IT, they came as the administration released two memos Tuesday morning that instructed heads of departments to identify places where they could cut costs and to take certain more specific IT-related steps in drawing up their fiscal 2012 budgets.

Among the stated goals of that guidance, Orszag wrote in one of the memos, is to "strengthen IT and financial management [to] squeeze waste out of existing operations and produce better outcomes." Included are instructions on how agencies should tackle their budgets for IT infrastructure, IT project management, and cybersecurity.

In terms of IT infrastructure, the OMB instructed agency heads to include funding for "timely execution" of data center consolidation efforts as part of the administration's ongoing formal government-wide data center consolidation initiative. The guidance also gave a clear indication that the administration will continue to push agencies to adopt cloud computing. "Agencies will be expected to adopt cloud computing solutions where they represent the best value at an acceptable level of risk," the memo said.

Agencies were also instructed to complete a full review of IT investment portfolios before submitting budget requests, along the way identifying high-risk projects and creating remediation plans for those projects, which OMB said it will give a more thorough look as part of the budgeting process for 2012.

"While high-performing companies kill almost one-third of their IT projects in less than six months, the government kills almost none," Orszag said, pointing to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a failed mobile census effort and to major inefficiencies in patent processing.

OMB's guidance noted that further information on IT project management and on formal reviews of at-risk projects will come "over the next several weeks." Draft guidance on IT project management is already making rounds in Washington, though OMB won't confirm that it even exists.

Finally, agencies will be required to include funding in their fiscal 2012 budgets for tools that can enable continuous monitoring of IT systems in order to ensure cybersecurity and compliance with federal cybersecurity requirements under the Federal Information Security Management Act.

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