Federal CIO Outlines Second-Term IT Priorities - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership

Federal CIO Outlines Second-Term IT Priorities

Amid continued cost cutting, the White House will seek to drive innovation, ROI and cybersecurity.

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Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel laid out the Obama administration's second-term IT priorities in a congressional hearing on IT reform. The White House will focus on increasing the return on investment of its $79 billion annual IT budget, strengthening cybersecurity and driving new forms of innovation.

Over the past four years, the administration focused on eliminating duplicative IT systems and services, reforming IT management, and streamlining service delivery, VanRoekel said at the Jan. 22 hearing by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Going forward, he said, the objective is to "balance cost savings with innovation by continuing to cut costs while we invest in technology that security serves the American people."

To drive innovation, VanRoekel said he will guide federal agencies to apply IT to simplify the complexity of government and make more government data available to feed "the new data economy." In the area of ROI, VanRoekel said the feds must increase adoption of technology-as-a-service as a way of shifting from "asset ownership to service-orientation." He called cyber threats "one of the most serious national security, public safety and economic challenges we face as a nation."

[ Federal IT needs to stop doing things the same old way and adopt a startup culture. Read more at We Must Run Government IT Like A Startup. ]

Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) opened the hearing by stating that according to some estimates, 47% of federal IT spending goes to maintain "obsolete and deficient IT resources" and that as much as $20 billon is wasted each year.

Some committee members expressed surprise that such a big chunk of the federal IT budget goes to the maintenance of legacy systems. But VanRoekel, in an ironic twist, pointed out that the relative antiquity of many federal computer systems provides some level of protection against modern-day cyber threats, which tend to target newer platforms. "Who knew that outdated and antiquated systems would provide protection against cyber-attacks?" quipped Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

Former congressman and committee chairman Tom Davis, who contributed to the development of Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), testified that more is needed in the area of cybersecurity. "It has turned into a box-checking exercise," he said.

Davis advocated implementing share-in-savings contracts as one way to shift project risk to contractors. "They bear the risk of actually delivering on what they say they can do. If they are successful, they make money; if not, they don't," he said in formal remarks.

Davis chided government leaders who consider IT projects to be discretionary spending rather than strategic investments. He said continuing resolutions, in lieu of a fiscal budget, make it difficult for IT managers to commit funds to projects. "CRs kill IT procurement," he said. "They kill innovation in government."

According to David Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, three areas of IT acquisition require increased attention: There must be more transparency on troubled projects, duplication of systems must be tackled more aggressively, and the Office of Management and Budget and agencies must follow through on data center consolidation plans.

Issa expressed frustration that the title of CIO has proliferated throughout federal government, observing that the Justice Department has 40 CIOs. Powner and VanRoekel responded that the title is less important than having budget authority and accountability for an IT executive's area of responsibility.

Mobile applications are the new way to extend government information and services to on-the-go citizens and employees. Also in the new, all-digital Anytime, Anywhere issue of InformationWeek Government: A new initiative aims to shift the 17-member Intelligence Community from agency-specific IT silos to an enterprise environment of shared systems and services. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Strategist
1/24/2013 | 8:15:24 PM
re: Federal CIO Outlines Second-Term IT Priorities
In all likelihood, the reference to "legacy systems" is to older IBM 390 mainframes and aging AS 400s, Digital Equipment Corp. VAXes with VMS, HP's prioprietary MPX, old versions of Sun Solaris or even SunOS, I read the description as referring to "obsolete or near obsolete" systems purchased many years ago, possibly no longer even supported, not recent versions of Solaris or HP/UX. While the private sector often refers to its legacy systems as taking even more of the budget, it sounds like legacy in the government means "legacy and badly obsolete." Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek
John Foley
John Foley,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2013 | 6:40:04 PM
re: Federal CIO Outlines Second-Term IT Priorities
"Some committee members expressed surprise that such a big chuck of the federal IT budget goes to the maintenance of legacy systems." Surprised? Really? The long-used rule of thumb in the business world was that 80 percent of the IT budget went toward maintenance and 20 percent to new capabilities. Over time that has shifted to 70/30, 60/40, etc., as CIOs get better at squeezing costs from one place to invest in another. If the feds are only spending half their IT budget on maintenance, they're ahead of the curve. In other words, 50 percent on maintenance is surprisingly good, not surprisingly bad.
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