Innovation in Federal IT? Sorry, Not in the Budget This Year


A new survey, not surprisingly, finds “budget limitations” are the top barrier to new IT adoption.

The new federal chief information officer, Tony Scott, recently noted that more than 80 percent of the government’s IT budget is spent on legacy technology. He’s not alone in thinking government has its technology investment priorities backward. 

A survey by software provider SolarWinds of 123 public sector IT managers and directors unsurprisingly found “budget limitations” as the top barrier to new IT adoption.

The government IT gurus surveyed in this research were polled in December, before the Obama administration revealed a budget forecast that actually increases IT spending 2.7 percent over last year. Yet, they’d most certainly understand spending money on ancient mainframes that run legacy applications means you’re not spending it on cloud computing pilots, improved analytics or other strategic innovation investments.

Phrased another way, you know those polled would crank up the Geto Boys and go all "Office Space" on various legacy technologies if they could, but they can’t.

Some of the other survey statistics won’t surprise anyone familiar with federal IT.

A majority (55 percent) indicated security and compliance concerns detracted from new IT adoption, and 53 percent outright said the need to continue supporting legacy technology kept them from investing in new technologies. Other barriers included an inability to convince key decision-makers (47 percent) on the need for new investments and a lack of IT empowerment (37 percent).

Investing in new technologies is particularly important for the government, which regularly interacts with nearly every man, woman and child in the country. Interestingly, 92 percent of respondents “indicated that adopting significant new technologies is important to their agencies’ long-term success.”

I’m not sure what agencies the other 8 percent work for, but unless they’re still using telegrams and horse and buggies for communication, they might want to rethink their positions. 

The survey also took a look at CIO involvement in IT initiatives and found that most of the IT professionals surveyed felt CIOs’ primary roles were to approve budgets (54 percent) and offer strategic guidance (47 percent). Only 38 percent said their CIOs were involved in all areas of IT, including the procurement, deployment and implementation of new technology.

The CIO’s purview of all things IT is almost certainly going to increase as agencies begin to implement the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, which will give CIOs across government more authority to control IT investments.

Whether CIOs use their newfound authorities under FITARA to change the kinds of technology investments their departments make -- and not just signing off on contracts -- remains to be seen.

(Image via Hermin/