This Is IT: ‘Skinny’ Budget Prioritizes IT Modernization, Cyber

For a skinny budget that’s even slimmer than typical in new administrations, there’s a big focus on information technology and cybersecurity with details and budget figures that indicate there will be more money for both in fiscal 2022.

A skinny budget, which contains topline budget requests by agency along with the new administration’s budget priorities, is common at the start of a new administration as a preview or placeholder while the final budget request is finalized.

The White House released the skinny budget April 9 and highlighted five priorities: public health, economy, climate, racial inequity, and global challenges.

President Joe Biden’s request came in at just 58 pages and includes discretionary budget requests for fiscal 2022. Former President Donald Trump’s skinny budget was a similar length, but previous skinny budgets have been in the realm of 100 to 200 pages. Despite a short document and no priorities that focus on IT specifically, IT weaves its way through the document in the form of cybersecurity, telecommunications, data collection, and digital services.

Photo credit: Bloomberg media

This week’s This Is IT discusses the skinny budget’s IT priorities and what they mean for IT contractors.

Cybersecurity-focused budget requests include:

  • $750 million as a reserve for federal agency IT enhancements. This would be shared across agencies for IT modernization, legacy system protection, and cybersecurity, but exactly where it would go or how it would work is unclear. Because it’s called a “reserve,” it sounds like a working capital fund or a fund set aside for responding to incidents, but details are lacking.
  • $500 million for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), a government-wide investment fund that supports IT upgrades. The budget request builds on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (PL 117-2) investment of $1 billion in the TMF.
  • An additional $110 million from the fiscal 2021 enacted level for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), specifically for cybersecurity and IT modernization. This would build on a $650-million boost CISA received as part of the American Rescue Plan.
  • $20 million for a new Cyber Response and Recovery Fund, likely under CISA.
  • An increase of $128 million over the 2021 enacted level to expand scientific and technological research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, including computing, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum information science.
  • $599 million to DHS for investments in research, development, and innovation. Although all wouldn’t be IT-related, cybersecurity data analytics would be a focus.
  • A new directorate for technology and innovation at the National Science Foundation, which would focus on technology development in areas like artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, quantum information science, advanced communications technology, biotechnology, and cybersecurity. A budget figure wasn’t included, but NSF’s fiscal 2022 budget request is $10.2 billion, up $1.7 billion from fiscal 2021 enacted levels. Most of the NSF budget — $9.4 billion, $1.6 billion above the 2021 enacted level — would be for science, engineering, and technology research, which would include among many other things computer and information sciences.

Telecommunications requests include:

  • $65 million for the Department of Agriculture’s program for rural broadband e-connectivity, called ReConnect. Most of this money is likely to be in grants.
  • $39 million for advanced communications research at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which would support development and deployment of broadband and 5G technologies by identifying innovative approaches to spectrum sharing.

Data collection and analysis requests include:

  • $153 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to modernize public health data collection in states and territories across the country.
  • $2 billion for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites, which would incorporate new technologies and improve data for weather and climate forecasts. This would be a $500-million increase over the 2021 enacted level and likely to include some IT-specific parts.
  • $64 million above the fiscal 2021 enacted level for the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to create a database to track organizations that launder money and finance terrorists.
  • $7.4 billion, an increase of more than $400 million over the 2021 level, in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Much of this isn’t IT-related, but DOE would invest some of this budget in AI and computing to enhance environmental and scientific prediction and decision-making.

Digital services requests include:

  • $4.8 billion for the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at the Department of Veterans Affairs to pilot application transformation efforts, support cloud modernization, deliver efficient information technology services, and enhance customer service experiences. OIT’s budget request for fiscal 2021 was $4.9 billion.
  • $2.7 billion to modernize the VA’s electronic health record (EHR). $2.6 billion was requested for fiscal 2021, a substantial increase from the fiscal 2020 enacted level of $1.5 billion. The new request could keep investments in EHR modernization high at VA. For the planned level of spending to take place this year and next, VA will have to ramp up its EHR program, as some parts have been delayed because of Covid-19 and the need for a strategic review.
  • New, modernized online tools for taxpayers to communicate with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A budget figure isn’t included, but the IRS budget request is $1.2 billion above fiscal 2021 enacted levels.
  • $100 million investment for the Department of Labor to develop IT solutions to improve the benefits dispersal process.
  • Modernizing the Social Security Administration’s customer service IT systems and moving more services online. No budget request value was provided, but the overall SSA budget request is $1.3 billion higher than the fiscal 2021 enacted figures.

Overall, civilian agencies requested a $105.7 billion increase, or 15.9%, over fiscal 2021 enacted levels, and the Department of Defense requested $11.3 billion or 1.6% more in discretionary funding than enacted in fiscal 2021. Nearly every civilian agency would receive more money in fiscal 2022 under the levels in the discretionary request. All factors — increasing budget requests, an emphasis on IT throughout the request, and IT budgets increasing annually since fiscal 2017 — point to a rise in IT and cybersecurity budgets across most agencies in fiscal 2022.

To contact the analyst on this story: Laura Criste in Salt Lake City, Utah at lcriste@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Clark at mclark@ic.bloombergindustry.com

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