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Feds Scramble To Save Key IT Programs

Budget compromise being voted on Thursday would slash funding for transparency and IT efficiency efforts, but bipartisan group of Senators pushes to keep the IT Dashboard, IT project reviews alive.

Congress will vote Thursday on a continuing resolution that would cut funding for certain open government initiatives by 80% and funding for key IT efficiency efforts to zero, but several Senators want to make sure pieces of those initiatives survive.

On Tuesday, despite the trim budget to support such measures, Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., introduced a bipartisan bill mandating increased oversight over troubled IT projects.

"It’s clear that federal agencies are dropping the ball when it comes to deploying the right technology in a timely and cost-effective manner," Carper said in a Senate hearing Tuesday. "This legislation will provide the planning and oversight needed to reduce waste and improve the federal government’s information technology operations."

The bill would codify the federal IT Dashboard, making it a permanent fixture where agencies and the public could go for detailed information about the performance of federal IT projects, and mandate agency CIOs and the federal CIO to carry out detailed project reviews if they go too far over budget.

However, the question is whether, if the bill ends up becoming law, funding will be available to make that happen. While the Obama administration requested $34 million for its electronic government fund and $50 million for the Integrated, Efficient, and Effective Uses of Information Technology fund, the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution introduced in the House of Representatives over the weekend would provide only $8 million for electronic government and nothing for the other fund. That's better than earlier versions of the bill, which would have given e-government only $2 million, but still may lead to certain transparency sites being cut.

"I think given the original request versus where we are right now, we're still evaluating the implications, but we are going to have to make some tough decisions about which systems are going to have to go offline versus what systems can be supported with an $8 million fund," Kundra said in testimony yesterday before the Senate committee on homeland security and government affairs. "We haven't actually had a chance to sit down and prioritize systems."

In particular, the e-government fund props up websites like USASpending.gov, the IT Dashboard, and data.gov, where the government posts details on government spending and thousands of other data sets about everything from geography to healthcare to wild horses.

Over the past few weeks, transparency advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation has been running a public campaign called "Save the Data" to encourage people to urge their congressional representatives to keep funding for these sites alive.

The Integrated, Efficient, and Effective Uses of Information Technology fund, meanwhile, would support increasing the scale of TechStat project review sessions, the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative, and the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.

In the past four months, OMB has trained 129 agency representatives to implement TechStat at their respective agencies, 23 agencies have conducted their first TechStat session, and more than 1,000 people have downloaded the detailed TechStat toolkit. In total, Kundra claims $3 billion in savings from TechStat sessions that have been carried out since their inception last year.

While the use of TechStat continues to expand, however, a lack of funding could prevent Kundra's office from building a bigger team with more resources to ferret out inefficient and troubled spending that might not be among the low-hanging fruit.

Projects like cloud computing and data center consolidation, meanwhile, will likely see their support shift to other sources of funding. For example, the FedRAMP cloud security authorization project will move to the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service.

Al Grasso, CEO of non-profit research and development center MITRE, who testified after Kundra, seconded the need for resources to accomplish the goals of transparency and IT efficiency. "Without the opportunity, authority, and resources to accomplish these goals, the success rate in adopting new technology will continue to suffer," he said.

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