Trump budget stresses modernization, cyber

The administration rolls out a $210 million IT modernization fund and puts cybersecurity front and center in its $4.4 trillion budget request.

President Trump's FY19 budget (photo: GPO)

The Trump administration released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 on Feb. 12, calling for a total of $4.4 trillion in spending, including significant increases for military and infrastructure investments.

As expected, the administration put a heavy emphasis on supporting IT modernization and cybersecurity initiatives. The federal government’s outdated technology infrastructure is listed as one of the major causes behind a series of damaging cyberattacks that have plagued the public sector over the past few years, as well as a contributing factor in a more general loss of public trust in government.

The administration writes that “antiquated, unsecure technology risks can leave the public frustrated and vulnerable” and that “too many federal employees perform outdated duties that rely on outdated skillsets.”

To restore that lost trust, the budget promises a more “nimble” approach going forward, one powered by IT modernization, data transparency and a retrained workforce capable of thriving in that environment. This includes broader goals to do away with “burdensome” rules and requirements related to “meaningless compliance,” as well as greater transparency around how agencies spend their IT dollars to facilitate greater efficiencies in areas like procurement and grant spending.

The administration promises to provide more detail on goals and metrics for these initiatives with the release of the President’s Management Agenda in March 2018.

According to a fact sheet put out by the White House, the administration is proposing $80 billion in total IT and cybersecurity spending across the federal government and $45.8 billion for civilian agencies. Total proposed IT spending is up 5.2 percent from last year.

However, modernization proponents believe updating the federal government’s technology infrastructure will lead to reduced overall IT costs, something the White House and the Office of Management and Budget are likely taking into account as agencies begin drawing from capital funds created through the Modernizing Government Technology Act this year. 

A draft memorandum written by OMB and reported on by FCW notes that spending related to the MGT Act must come from the General Services Administration central fund, which in turn can be funded only through the appropriations process. Shortly after the president’s budget was released, GSA announced a new $210 million modernization fund from which agencies could draw if their projects are approved. The agency also announced $20.5 million in new funding for improvements to the IT dashboard and $58.4 million for citizen-centric cybersecurity programs.

“The investments in our nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure proposed in the President’s budget will improve our government’s security posture and empower agencies to more efficiently and effectively accomplish their critical missions,” said GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in a statement accompanying the announcement.

The document also calls for development of a next-generation 5G wireless network, but unlike earlier reports that a nationalized approach was being considered, the administration makes clear it is looking for the commercial sector to lead the way.

Shifting funds and reorganizing programs to protect federal networks and the private sector from cyber attacks is a common theme throughout the budget. The administration earmarks approximately $15 billion for publicly acknowledged cybersecurity-related activities across the executive branch, an increase of approximately 4 percent year over year. More than half of that figure, $8.5 billion, goes to the Department of Defense.

The budget also requests $46 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the government’s primary civilian cybersecurity agency, and $6.8 billion for IT services, the highest dollar figure out of all civilian agencies.

The White House calls for $1 billion in dedicated cybersecurity funding at DHS. Much of that money will go to programs overseen by the National Protection and Programs and Directorate, which handles many critical aspects of cybersecurity policy within civilian agencies, the private sector and state and local government. Cybersecurity funding for the directorate is pegged at $785 million in 2019, an increase of more than $100 million over estimated 2018 funding levels.

The budget also includes $71 million to the Transportation Services Administration to expand the use of security technologies like computed tomography scanning for baggage and electronics at airports. That’s less than half the funding requested by TSA, and House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) criticized the administration recently in his annual State of National Security Address for leaving the nation’s airports vulnerable to newer threats such as laptop bombs.