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IT chief could shift funds for agencies' internal tech projects

This article was updated at 6:24 pm, Aug. 19, to clarify the time frame NASA plans to award contracts for agencywide help desk, application, Web and communications services.

The federal government's top technology official said Wednesday that he might reshuffle funds for agencies' internal information technology projects in the fiscal 2012 budget.

Separately, the Office of Management and Budget is expected to publicly release a list of high-risk projects by Monday that will target around 30 projects for overhaul or termination, OMB officials said on Wednesday. Both moves are part of a White House effort to cut off runaway IT investments that waste billions of taxpayer dollars annually. The contracting industry has expressed concern that uncertainty over the fate of IT programs could prevent private sector and federal personnel from taking on government work.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra told NASA tech employees at the agency's first IT summit on Wednesday that the White House has to work harder at incorporating feedback from IT personnel into budget decisions. For example, Interior Department officials told him they wanted to distribute an e-mail departmentwide, but could not do so because each division has separate messaging systems, Kundra said, adding such infrastructure costs the government about $20 billion annually.

"How do we move from an environment where we've had a history of colossal failures in terms of IT systems, and how do we convene those in this room" to battle the problem, he said. The three-day IT event is aimed at introducing federal employees to private sector innovations, praising NASA personnel on their own breakthroughs, and sharing tactics for bolstering security, social networking and other administration priorities.

Kundra said he already has met with every major agency official on the Chief Information Officers Council during the past month to identify troubled projects.

None of NASA's projects is considered high risk, according to agency officials who met with Kundra on Friday. Deputy CIO Deborah Diaz, who joined CIO Linda Cureton at the meeting, said they briefed him primarily on a major acquisition program intended to centralize the way NASA delivers and manages IT services. The IT Infrastructure Integration Program will begin to award contracts for agencywide help desk, application, Web and communications services in February 2011 and awards will be completed by the end of 2011, Diaz said in an interview on Wednesday. NASA's IT environment, which currently differs by research center, will become standardized and more collaborative under the integration program, according to officials.

The agency this past February postponed one piece of the program -- data center consolidation -- because Cureton and Diaz, who came on board in 2009, decided the existing plan did not meet the agency's energy-efficiency and cloud computing needs. Cloud computing is a way to shrink IT resources by accessing shared hardware and software through the Internet, as needed.

The Obama administration has set an ambitious agenda for uprooting IT investments, including freezing all financial system modernizations to downsize or kill them, acting on the high-risk list, and developing sweeping guidance that will revamp IT contracting and project management.

IT debacles date back several administrations. Kundra said that when he became the government's CIO, he received a pile of documents citing "$26 billion worth of IT projects that are way over budget and way behind schedule."

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