VanRoekel: Cut recurring costs to fund new projects

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel's chief aim in office is to cut down the amount of money agencies spend on technology operations and maintenance so that they can plow that money back into new initiatives, he said Tuesday.

Traditionally, the government has funded new projects by adding money to the budget rather than by reducing spending on day-to-day expenses, he said during FOSE's 2012 conference on government technology. The result is that federal information technology spending grew about 7 percent every year during the decade prior to 2009.

Since President Obama took office amid the 2008 financial crisis, federal IT spending has leveled off at about $80 billion annually.

"I'm proud to say that in the last three years on that flat or declining budget we've actually innovated a lot," VanRoekel said.

Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires instituted a 10 percent cut in operations and maintenance spending across the department in the administration's fiscal 2013 budget request to free up money for new initiatives. Other agency CIOs have described similar processes but without an across-the-board mandate.

VanRoekel said initiatives to consolidate federal data centers, shift more of the IT budget to cloud computing and a "maniacal focus on rooting out duplication" were allowing agencies to invest in new technologies.

The Defense Department's 2013 IT budget request, for instance, is down more than $1 billion, largely because the department cut costs associated with maintaining data centers, he noted.

Among the ways VanRoekel's office is cutting down on duplication, he said, is with the new PortfolioStat process he announced Friday.

PortfolioStat is modeled after TechStat, a program VanRoekel said has saved the federal government $4 billion since it was instituted in 2009. In TechStat sessions, managers of troubled programs are required to make adapt-or-perish presentations before agency technology leaders or the federal CIO himself. The process forces senior officials to either fix worthwhile programs or cut their losses on those offering a poor return on investment.

PortfolioStat is an opportunity for CIOs and chief operating officers to look horizontally across an agency and identify places where services can more easily be shared ,VanRoekel said Tuesday.

The U.S. Agriculture Department, for instance, has moved from more than 20 separate email systems to only one cloud-based system during the past year and recently consolidated more than 700 mobile phone contracts into three blanket purchase agreements, he said.

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