Federal IT projects take a hit

'Legacy systems are eating us alive'
By Tom Sullivan
10:46 AM

Rather than the riskier leading-edge initiatives, the IT areas within federal agencies getting hit hardest by sequestration are the basics.

The backdrop: 41 percent of federal IT executives are amid budget cuts greater than 10 percent triggered by sequestration, according to a Big Data report MeriTalk published last week.

In asking 150 federal IT executives about their budgets, in fact, MeriTalk found a handful of information technology projects, entirely new or of the upgrade variety, which are threatened or at least facing dormancy.

[See also: Military CIOs give frank talk about EHRs.]

The top four are: 

  1. Training/workforce development (51 percent)
  2. Hardware upgrades (48 percent)
  3. Software upgrades (41 percent)
  4. New application development (40 percent)

“These are significant problems,” MeriTalk founder Steve O’Keeffe said, particularly because the top three are such basic functions. 

Indeed, amid mammoth transitions instigated by White House policy, such as Cloud-First and the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), government agencies are essentially handcuffed from making requisite, if often bold, up-front investments necessary for savings down the road.

It’s not just those policy-driven changes, either. Military Health System CIO David Bowen offered a sobering glimpse into the extent of that particular unit’s IT budgetary challenges by saying that “legacy systems are eating us alive.”

[See also: VA, DoD on tighter leash with iEHR.]

Particular to Military Health System, Bowen continued, older technologies are gobbling up 95 percent of the technology budget — leaving mere crumbs for modernization.

MHS’ budgetary challenges may, or may not, be more dramatic than other pieces of the federal government but it is certainly not alone in potentially facing deep cuts again next year. Bowen explained during a keynote at the mid-June Government Health IT Conference and Exhibition in Washington that sequestration could bite another $5 billion from the MHS in 2014, meaning Bowen and his staff would have less to work with.  

“Without investment capital,” MeriTalk's O’Keeffe asked rhetorically, “how are we supposed to change anything?”