White House's $14 Billion Cyber Spending Claim Is Squishy

Adam Parent/Shutterstock.com

The administration's 2014 governmentwide computer security budget has two line items -- cyber IT and cyber non-IT activities -- neither of which has a dollar figure attached.

The size of the federal budget for computer security is hard to believe -- not because of the dollars involved, but because such spending is nearly unquantifiable. 

Consider this history lesson: In 2011, the White House proposed dedicating $2.3 billion to cybersecurity across the Defense Department for fiscal 2012.  

Officials at the Air Force, for their part, released a separate budget document that said the service planned to spend $4.6 billion on cyber. That's right: The Air Force planned to spend twice what the White House attributed to the entire Defense Department. 

After an exasperating attempt to reconcile these wildly different numbers, an effort that entailed repeated calls to multiple Pentagon components that, in turn, passed the buck to other components, a department spokeswoman explained the Air Force was improperly counting "things" that are not typically considered cyber in its request. Defense also revised it's cyber spending estimate and provided a higher total budget -- $3.2 billion

Now, the administration's Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel claims the White House has dedicated $14 billion to cybersecurity across the entire government.

Flabbergasted as to how the administration was able to identify cyber things at every agency to come up with a composite number when the Pentagon failed at taking a single inventory, Nextgov asked White House officials to break down the cyber budget.

They said the $14 billion includes the following elements:

  1. IT investments
  2. Agency activities related to cybersecurity that are non-IT

The two line items are intended to help secure federal networks; improve cyber incident response; protect critical infrastructure such as networks sustaining power plants; engage internationally; and shape the future workforce and research and development efforts, officials said.  

They did not provide any dollar breakdowns. They also declined to furnish the top level budget for each agency and list the criteria used to standardize calculations. 

White House officials assured me that a key part of the budget process was data quality and ensuring that no activities were double counted.  

I was always taught you need to show your math.

(Image via Adam Parent/Shutterstock.com)