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Senate funds Web services sites, but cuts cloud computing budget

This article was updated at 7:48 pm on Friday, Aug. 6.

Senate appropriators boosted fiscal 2011 spending for federal agencies to share innovative Web services, but slashed spending on data center consolidation -- a blow to a key Obama administration strategy to cut governmentwide information technology costs.

In its spending bill (S. 3677) passed on July 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee provided $40 million to develop a shared set of online applications that would fulfill obligations laid out in a December 2009 presidential directive on transparency. The line item, called the Integrated, Efficient and Effective Uses of Information Technology, would fund activities such as using technology to engage citizens in policymaking and for agencies to collaborate throughout all levels of government.

But in a separate initiative, senators gave only $20 million of the president's $35 million request to consolidate IT infrastructure through remote computing. The White House asked for the funding to start replacing federal data centers with a cloud computing model, in which agencies access software and hardware online through a third party rather than using in-house servers. The senator's proposal, $14 million less than current funding, signals Congress' unease with the amount of thought the administration has put in to the transition, according to a committee report that accompanied the bill.

The House Appropriations Committee has not acted on the fiscal 2011 IT budget for the general government yet.

The new pool of money for open government would pay for a communal array of Web-based tools that agencies would share for accountability tracking, among other services, according to the report. Agencies have begun holding themselves publicly accountable for meeting goals by charting their progress on Web-based score cards.

The new account is intended to save money that agencies otherwise would spend on redundant applications, the senators wrote. President Obama's February budget request proposed the idea and asked Congress to fund the initiative at $50 million, close to the $40 million amount Senate appropriators ultimately approved.

Lawmakers, however, partially rejected the president's budget for downsizing federal data centers. The Office of Management and Budget has pressed agencies to gradually abandon on-site servers in favor of remote, secure computing environments that host multiple agencies' data and IT services.

The committee backed the administration's overall goal of cloud computing, but the panel declined to fully fund the program because of budget constraints and a sense the White House's strategy for combining data centers was too vague, according to the report.

"The committee is supportive of the concepts contemplated in the e-gov account for fiscal year 2011, namely, moving agencies to cloud computing through pilots" and developing shared services, which are centralized IT hubs that support multiple agencies, the senators wrote. "The committee is concerned that the electronic government initiative does not provide sufficient guidance regarding consolidation of federal agency data centers into data facilities with multiple federal tenants."

The committee instructed the General Services Administration to provide Congress with a feasibility report on merging data centers into existing federal shared services facilities.

Meanwhile, appropriators hiked IT funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which now is charged with policing the $300 trillion privately traded derivatives market under the financial reform law.

The Senate bill includes $59 million for CFTC technology through fiscal 2013, up sharply from the fiscal 2010 budget of $9.3 million. The president had requested only $18 million when he released his budget in February, before the details of the regulatory law had been decided.

The committee "emphasizes the need for CFTC to make mission-critical investments in technology to sort through the millions of pieces of information generated daily by markets, much of it electronic," the senators wrote. "The amount and detail of trade data collected and analyzed at the CFTC is unprecedented among regulatory financial agencies."

OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer on Friday evening said, "We stand by the request in the president's budget for e-government and information technology. This request was carefully developed to improve efficiency and the effectiveness of IT programs in the government and take into account the overall constraints of the federal budget, and we look forward to working with the Congress as the process moves forward.

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