Federal CIOs Identify Budget-Cut Risks

Sequestration is deterring implementation of new technologies and forcing CIOs to find ways to save, survey finds.

While government budget cuts are thought to be necessary, many federal CIOs are worried that across-the-board cost cutting, or sequestration, hinders investments in modern technologies, according to an annual survey released this month by TechAmerica in partnership with Grant Thornton.

When asked to identify their top concerns for 2013, CIOs mentioned budget cuts most frequently in the survey, which interviewed 41 CIOs, information resources management officials and congressional oversight committee staff members.

Currently more than 76% of IT spending goes to operations and maintenance, and infrastructure. CIOs want to move off of legacy systems but often don't have the money to spend on newer technologies. While this forces CIOs to think creatively as they find ways to save and buy services instead of making large, risky investments, they still don't have an effective way of understanding and managing IT costs, the survey found. More than 60% of CIOs are not confident in their ability to estimate and track IT expenditures.

Some new risks from budget cuts identified by CIOs include less seed capital to support innovation projects, increased cybersecurity attacks, longer hardware life cycles, suffering quality, no staff training and maintaining expensive legacy systems. When it comes to IT spending, 57% is controlled by department CIOs. Program offices control 45% and component/bureau CIOs control 44%, according to the survey.

In 2010, the White House released a 25-point plan designed to eliminate flailing IT programs. The 25-point plan has been helping CIOs identify areas of focus. Of those CIOs surveyed by TechAmerica, 94% are implementing the plan by deploying cloud services. However, there are serious cost and security constraints preventing government-wide implementation.

[ What can government CIOs learn from startup culture? Read We Must Run Government IT Like A Startup. ]

In addition to budget cuts, the survey found other concerns that have been continuing year-to-year, such as governance. One suggestion TechAmerica provided is for Congress to assist CIOs with budgets and governance. Instead of appropriating the majority of IT funds directly to programs, Congress should give CIOs more control over how the money is spent.

The government also faces challenges with the talent pool, as experienced federal IT employees are choosing to retire rather than receiving no pay raises. Government jobs no longer offer security, which is impacting CIO recruitment and retention. When asked to name the most critical skill they look for in candidates, 83% of CIOs said program management, and 75% ranked problem solving as the second most critical skill.

Cybersecurity is at the top of the list as well. Concerns over cybersecurity are increasing, despite the fact that a trained cybersecurity workforce remains obscure. The CIO Council's "2012 Information Technology Workforce Assessment for Cyber Security" found that most federal civilian cybersecurity professionals are above the age of 40. According to the TechAmerica survey, 70% of CIOs reported as much as a 25% increase in cybersecurity threats in the last year alone. Two-thirds of the CIOs said external attacks are most common.

Uncle Sam's taken the lead on secure use of cloud services. Here's how FedRAMP can change your experience, too. Also in the new, all-digital Follow The Feds issue of InformationWeek: Candid career advice for women in IT includes calling work-life balance a myth. (Free registration required.)

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