Trump Budget Calls for Slight Increase In IT Spending

James Knable helps to unpack copies of the President's FY19 Budget after it arrived at the House Budget Committee office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

James Knable helps to unpack copies of the President's FY19 Budget after it arrived at the House Budget Committee office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/AP

The president’s 2019 budget proposal includes $45.8 billion for IT infrastructure and services, with $210 million for the Technology Modernization Fund.

Under President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, civilian federal IT spending would rise by almost half a percentage point, from $45.6 billion in fiscal 2018 to $45.8 billion next year.

The proposed increase would be almost 2 percent more than the $44.9 billion allocated in 2017.

Those seemingly small percentage increases are hugely significant in an IT budget that’s been largely flat for years.

While past budgets have grouped civilian and defense IT spending, this year’s documents do not provide a topline number for the Defense Department. The documents note that in 2018, Defense IT spending was $42.5 billion, or about 44 percent of the governmentwide IT budget.

The budget documents also note that previous IT breakdowns included two major grant programs administered by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments that distribute funding to state and local governments for federal benefits programs. Those program—totaling about $9 billion—were not included in the civilian IT spending totals this year.

According to the IT analytical perspective provided by the Office of Management and Budget, the $45.8 billion in civilian IT spending would be divvied up between 4,113 IT investments, 507 of which are considered “major IT investments.” These projects are broken into three functional areas: mission delivery; infrastructure, security and management; and administrative and support services.

While the IT goals differ from agency to agency, some initiatives span the entire executive branch.

IT Modernization: Central Fund and a Push Toward Cloud, Shared Services

Estimates on how much federal agencies spend maintaining existing systems differ greatly, but the 2019 budget proposal states the government will spend 80 percent—or $36.6 billion—on operation and maintenance. That number includes upkeep of aging—or legacy—systems that are often a drag on IT budgets.

“Federal agencies have struggled with appropriately planning and budgeting for continuous modernization of their legacy IT systems,” the analytical perspective states, noting the forthcoming President’s Management Agenda will “focus on transitioning these systems to cloud and shared services.”

To facilitate those transitions, the administration is calling on Congress to fund the Technology Modernization Fund included in the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which passed Congress last year. That fund—administered by the General Services Administration as a revolving fund for large, critical IT upgrades—would get $210 million under the president’s plan. That’s a bit shy of the $250 million proposed last year and well short of the $3.1 billion then-President Obama asked for in 2016.

Once the fund is established, agencies will be able to request money from it, to be paid back over a five-year period using cost savings and other agency funds.

While critical, complex projects will get the major focus, the administration will also direct GSA and OMB to prioritize projects that “serve the interests of the executive branch as a whole.”

By Agency

The IT analytical perspective shows the wide gap between the agencies that spend the most on IT—the Homeland Security Department is at No. 1 with $6.8 billion and Health and Human Services is No. 2 at $5.5 billion—to the least—the Small Business Administration’s $90 million, just below the National Science Foundation’s $105 million.

Here are some highlights of IT spending changes at some of the major federal agencies:

Department of Agriculture

Agriculture added $29 million to its IT working capital fund, bringing the 2019 total to $473 million. While this is up over 2018, the number is still below the $487 million spent in 2017.

Justice Department

The Justice Department is requesting funding for a number of IT upgrades, including:

·      $25 million to support modernization of immigration IT systems, including expanding electronic case processing.

·      Up to $35.4 million for the department’s information sharing technology program.

·      $5 million for the National Security Division’s IT systems.

·      $105 million to improve the use of DNA technology through grants, training and research support.

Homeland Security

The Homeland Security Department is the government’s point agency for cybersecurity issues, including the security of federal networks. To that end, the president’s budget proposal includes $1 billion for federal IT cybersecurity initiatives.

“These funds also support DHS efforts to share cybersecurity information with state, local, and tribal governments, as well as with international partners and the private sector,” according to the budget documents, re-upping the previous administration’s push on information sharing. “As these threats continue to evolve, DHS cybersecurity programs are more important than ever.”

One of the main cybersecurity offices will be getting a boost this year at the expense of another, with the National Protection and Programs Directorate getting $36 million for research and development previously allocated to the Science and Technology Directorate.

The documents also state that funding will be made available to improve technology used for border security, though exact figures for that outlay are not included.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement included a line item for operational communications/information technology under part of its budget, setting aside $31 million for procurement, construction and improvements.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked for $12 million for communications and IT upgrades—up from $3 million in 2018. Those funds would be used for “investments in communications infrastructure, IT systems and equipment that (1) is directly used by field offices and personnel and (2) have multi-mission frontline applications.”

The same line item for the U.S. Secret Service dropped from $17 million in 2018 to $9 million for 2019.

U.S. Digital Service and Cybersecurity Oversight

The Office of Information Technology Oversight and Reform within OMB would lose some funding under the proposed budget.

The U.S. Digital Service—a team created to parachute in and help agencies fix major IT projects—would see its budget cut by $2 million down to $17 million. The budget documents had nothing but praise for USDS despite the funding cut.

The documents also had high praise for the IT office’s other main area, cybersecurity oversight. “ITOR funding for cybersecurity will continue to allow OMB to expand its data-driven, risk-based oversight of agency and governmentwide cybersecurity programs, issuing and implementing federal policies consistent with emerging technologies and evolving cyber threats,” the documents read.

The budget says OMB will expand work on the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program, as well as expanding its cybersecurity team. Despite these expansion plans, the proposal includes a cut of $11 million from OMB’s budget for the program, bringing funding down to $8 million for 2019.

That’s only a small portion of continuous diagnostics and mitigation funding, which is largely paid for by the Homeland Security Department. Homeland Security funding for the program will drop $41 million to $238 million in the budget request.

Census Bureau

The Department of Commerce has a number of IT initiatives, but the largest is likely the outlay for the Decennial Census. The 2019 budget proposal includes $3.8 billion for the Census Bureau, up from $2.3 billion in 2018. Most of that $1.5 billion increase will go toward improving the bureau’s IT infrastructure at home and in the field ahead of the 2020 count.

State Department

The State Department’s budget request includes $150 million for IT modernization, part of the $8.2 billion Diplomatic Programs and Information Technology Central Fund. Those funds will be used to “modernize legacy systems and software, allow the workforce to be more agile and resourceful—regardless of their location—and accelerate cloud-based solutions.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development requested $190.9 million for IT investments, along with maintenance of agency-owned properties.

Veterans Affairs

VA’s Office of Information Technology would get $4.2 billion under the proposal, with $204 million set aside for “recapitalizing” the department’s aging IT systems.

The budget also includes a separate line item to support the department’s electronic health records program—an effort that has gone through almost $2 billion since 2001 without standing up a workable system.

The department agreed to go with the Defense Department’s records solution, being developed by the IT company Cerner. VA is expected to spend $10 billion on this effort over the next decade.

Editor's note: Click for Nextgov's analysis of President Trump's budget request for R&D funding and cybersecurity