Mar 20 2019

White House’s Fiscal 2020 Budget Keeps IT Spending Flat

The budget proposal maintains roughly the same total spending on IT, but also tweaks how much agencies are receiving and increases cybersecurity funding.

The Trump administration is proposing to keep federal IT spending largely flat in the next fiscal year, though it is beefing up cybersecurity funding slightly and also including a new funding request for artificial intelligence research

On March 18, the administration released detailed analytical summaries of its fiscal year 2020 budget request, an annual statement of spending priorities. At a high level, the budget proposes spending $87.79 billion on IT programs across civilian and defense agencies in fiscal 2020, down about $182 million from the estimated $87.97 billion the government plans to have spent on IT by the close of fiscal 2019 at the end of September. 

Under the proposal, civilian agencies, led by the Department of Homeland Security, would receive about $1 billion more in this year’s request, while the Defense Department would receive about $1 billion less than last fiscal year. However, the request excludes information on classified IT investments by the Pentagon. 

The 2020 budget request includes funding for 7,653 IT investments at agencies to support three main functions: mission delivery; IT infrastructure, IT security and IT management; and administrative services and mission support. The largest 100 investments at civilian agencies account for 44 percent of federal IT spending. Of those 7,653 IT investments, 584 are categorized as a “major” IT investments, a determination made if the investment “has significant program or policy implications; has high executive visibility; has high development, operating, or maintenance costs; or requires special management attention because of its importance to the mission or function of the agency.”


White House Continues IT Modernization Push

As it has since 2017, the administration is continuing to push for the government to modernize its technology and become more efficient, in part by purchasing more commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software, including cloud services. 

The Report to the President on IT Modernization outlined 52 tasks, all of which were completed by December 2018, the budget request notes. The result from those activities informed the priorities and next steps included in the President’s Management Agenda IT Modernization CAP Goal, which “features a three-pronged approach that focuses on enhancing federal IT and digital services, reducing cybersecurity risks to the federal mission, and by building a modern IT and cybersecurity workforce,” the budget notes. 

The budget requests $125 million be allocated in fiscal 2020 for the Technology Modernization Fund, which, as FedScoop notes, “represents far more than the $25 million TMF was allocated for fiscal 2019 and the $100 million it received in its inaugural year, fiscal 2018.”

Agencies must apply and compete for TMF funds, and awards from the fund are decided by the TMF Board. Funds are distributed in an incremental manner and tied to milestones and objectives. Agencies that receive funds from the TMF work with the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget “to ensure that projects make maximum use of commercial products and services in their planning and execution and have a high likelihood of success,” the report notes. To date, the fund has awarded $90 million for IT modernization projects. 

The administration is also continuing to encourage agencies to adopt commercial cloud services. In 2018, the administration released a draft version of its Cloud Smart strategy for public comment, which focuses on having agencies choose cloud services that best meet their mission needs

As part of this strategy, OMB has also posted a draft memorandum for public comment that establishes a new Data Center Optimization Initiative, which prioritizes the increased virtualization of federal IT systems. The guidance also imposes a broad freeze on the construction of new data centers.

OMB has released a draft version of a policy update for the Trusted Internet Connection program for public comment, which will allow agencies to use alternative architectures and “change the way agencies access the internet securely by removing barriers to cloud adoption,” the budget notes. 

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out why agencies are embracing document digitization with gusto. 

Cybersecurity Spending Would Get a Bump

In terms of cybersecurity, the Trump administration is requesting more than $17.4 billion for cybersecurity efforts across federal agencies in fiscal 2020. That would represent a $790 million (5 percent) increase above the FY 2019 estimate. 

“Due to the sensitive nature of some activities, this amount does not represent the entire cyber budget,” the budget request notes. The DOD was the largest contributor to the budget authority for cybersecurity-related activities submitted, with $9.6 billion in cybersecurity funding in FY 2020. DHS came in second, with $1.92 billion in requested cyber funding. 

The DOD’s cybersecurity request would be about 10 percent above estimated fiscal 2019 spending of $8.73 billion. Civilian agencies overall would receive $7.79 billion, which would be a drop of 1.5 percent below current levels.

AT DHS, more than half of the cybersecurity funding would go to the newly formed Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “The funds would allow the agency to increase the number of network risk assessments it conducts and support programs to protect the government’s IT infrastructure,” Nextgov reports.

Nextgov adds: 

While CISA, Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would see substantial increases to their cyber budgets, the agency’s primary research wing, the Science and Technology Directorate, would lose almost three-quarters of its cyber funding. The move is another blow for the directorate, which has faced sizable budget cuts since the start of the Trump administration.

VIDEO: See how USCIS and SBA evolved their websites with emerging technology. 

AI Initiative Gets Funding

The role of artificial intelligence has been growing in government, particularly in the intelligence community. In February, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to establish a national strategy, the American AI Initiative. The strategy comes nearly two years after China vowed to become a world leader in AI and create a $150 billion domestic AI industry by 2030

The budget requests about $850 million for the initiative across the Energy Department, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation. 

FedScoop reports

Per a DOE breakdown, the agency’s portion of this would be $119 million to “improve the robustness, reliability, and transparency of Big Data and AI technologies.” NIH talks about its AI research in its congressional budget justification but doesn’t cite an exact number. NSF mentions that its budget request includes $492 million for investment in “transformative research in artificial intelligence.”

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