House Spending Bills Leave Digital Service Funding High and Dry, So Far

Mike Dickerson the administrator of the U.S. Digital Service.

Mike Dickerson the administrator of the U.S. Digital Service. Flickr user O'Reilly Conferences

The White House has called out the lack of funding for the new digital teams.

An Obama administration plan to create in-house digital teams of coders, engineers and other federal IT fixers at agencies across government is being snubbed by the Republican-controlled House.

President Barack Obama proposed spending about $105 million to create the teams. But in all the 2016 funding bills taken up the House Appropriations Committee so far, lawmakers have nixed agencies' funding requests to support them.

House appropriators denied digital service funding for the Transportation Department, which had requested $9 million to build a 40-person team as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had requested $1 million.

Appropriators included a provision giving the Justice Department “discretion and flexibility” to fund digital services there. But it did not include the administration's full request for funding a digital service team at DOJ. Likewise at the Commerce Department, NASA and the National Science Foundation.

The White House is now calling out the lack of funding for the new digital teams. The administration “urges Congress to fully fund” agency digital teams, according to two official “statements of administration policy” released this week.

Regarding HUD’s request, the administration statement said, “the failure to fund a U.S. digital service team represents a missed opportunity to improve key agency services and programs that impact the public."

The administration also pointed out severe cuts to HUD IT spending. The House bill would provide only $100 million in funding for the agency's information technology. That’s $234 million less than the agency requested, which the administration said would imperil basic IT operations at the agency, and “would likely require shutdown of core IT systems as well as cancellation or deferral of all development, modernization and enhancement projects, putting every element of HUD’s core mission at risk.”

In addition, two spending bills already passed by the full House -- setting 2016 funding for the Departments of Energy, Interior and Veterans Affairs, among others -- also rejected funding for digital services teams.  

The statement said the president would veto the House spending bills if they remain unchanged.

The new tech cadres are essentially replicas of the White House U.S. Digital Service, which Obama established last August to focus on revamping agencies’ citizen-facing services. Mikey Dickerson, a former Google engineer who helped patch up, leads that office.

OMB also asked Congress for $35 million for an IT oversight fund that will help boost staffing within the Digital Service’s White House headquarters.

House appropriators appeared to balk at that request, too. "That's a pretty big increase," Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., told OMB Director Shaun Donovan during a March hearing. "It might be difficult for us to, maybe, provide you those funds.”

Last year, Congress approved OMB’s full funding request for the IT fund -- $20 million -- which Dickerson said in a speech earlier this year was “possibly the most surprising thing” to happen since becoming the USDS administrator.