VA slated for big technology budget boost

The Veterans Affairs Department would see a nearly 18 percent jump in its information technology budget if Congress approves President Bush's fiscal 2009 budget request.

In contrast, the proposed tech budget for the Pentagon is just 2 percent higher than last year's figure -- despite the department's overall $515 billion request. The 2009 information technology budget request for the Defense Department edged up only 2.4 percent to $33.1 billion from the $32.3 billion enacted 2008.

The administration earmarked $2.53 billion for VA's tech budget in 2009, up from $2.15 billion in 2008. VA officials said the bulk of the $380 million increase will be allocated to programs to enhance veteran services, to cover inflationary cost increases, replace aging equipment, build new facilities and add services.

The 2009 VA tech budget request reflects a new centralized management infrastructure realignment of funding into two pools: veteran-facing IT systems and internal-facing IT systems, VA officials said. The veteran-facing systems, according to VA, directly affect services to veterans and account for $1.3 billion, or 75 percent of the requested 2009 IT budget, while internal-facing systems support infrastructure and administration and account for 25 percent of the IT budget.

The IT budget proposal for VA medical systems topped $1 billion for the first time, coming in at $1.2 billion versus $896 million for 2008. The latest figure includes $95 million to modernize the department's electronic veterans' health record system to enable data-sharing with Defense, other federal agencies and private sector health care providers.

Plagued with major data breaches, including the theft of a computer with the records of millions of veterans, VA requested a sharp boost in funding for its cybersecurity program in 2009. The department wants $92.5 million, up $11.4 million from 2008. This covers the use of secure common access cards to the VA network and computer resources as well as an identity and access management system.

In the Defense budget proposal, the Air Force requested a $310 million increase for technology to $7.2 billion in 2009, while the Army asked for a $500 million IT budget increase to $7.7 billion. The Navy, which also includes the Marine Corps, asked for a 2009 IT budget of $7 billion, down slightly from $7.09 billion in 2008.

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