Safe Bets

IT initiatives likely to go on in some form or another no matter who wins in November.

Many federal information technology initiatives are likely to continue in the next administration because industry and government trends-not politics-are driving them.

Cybersecurity threats keep multiplying. Citizens and interest groups are demanding better ways of interacting with government on the Internet. And tight budgets are forcing agencies to save money by consolidating information technology. These three reasons-a high-tech trifecta-will make it difficult for a new president to shift course.

After scanning the IT market, Government Executive came up with a list of the seven best bets in a new administration. Under President McCain or President Obama, these Bush administration initiatives are so far along, or make so much sense, or save so much money that they are expected to be funded in 2009 and beyond.

Cybersecurity

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has focused on protecting the nation's networks. The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace outlines a public-private initiative led by the Homeland Security Department to improve incident response systems, address vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, secure government systems, improve security training and step up international cooperation.

Cybersecurity spending has increased significantly. The feds spent more than $6.2 billion on IT security in fiscal 2008, more than 9 percent of the federal technology budget. For fiscal 2009, the administration has requested $6.8 billion.

A new administration might bring a different perspective to the cybersecurity program-such as whether its chief should rank higher in the executive branch, whether it should cover more privately owned infrastructure, whether its standards have enough teeth-but it's unlikely any future president would dismantle it, analysts say.

"The threats are continuing to increase and expand," says Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of FedSources, a McLean, Va., consulting firm. "If we're relying on technology for everything from run-of-the-mill e-mail to the critical infrastructure associated with the control of natural resources like dams and electrical systems, then cybersecurity is important. . . . Cybersecurity is not only about the defense of government systems but about the defense of the national economy."

Republican presidential candidate John McCain told an audience of law enforcement officials on July 1 that he would increase federal funding for cybersecurity. "We need to invest far more in the federal task of cybersecurity," he said. "In this new century, and especially with the threat of terrorist attacks, every state, local and federal agency concerned with public safety should have access to a shared repository of information."

A few weeks later at a summit on confronting new threats, Democratic candidate Barack Obama said he would make cybersecurity a top priority. "I'll declare our cyber infrastructure a strategic asset and appoint a national cyber adviser, who will report directly to me," he said. "We'll coordinate efforts across the federal government, implement a truly national cybersecurity policy and tighten standards to secure information-from the networks that power the federal government to the networks that you use in your personal lives."

Political pundits agree that funding is likely to rise, no matter who is elected, because the threats are rising, too. "The Republicans, with this president, have already gotten off to a good start with their cybersecurity initiative. Nobody knows how much they're spending, but it is a lot," says Bruce McConnell, president of Washington-based consulting firm McConnell International and chief of information and technology policy at OMB during the Clinton administration. "There's no reason for McCain or Obama to reduce that commitment to cybersecurity."

Performance Management

Introduced in 2001, the Bush administration's President's Management Agenda might get a new name and a new look in the next administration, but its performance measurement tools are unlikely to go away, observers say. Deeply ingrained in the federal budgeting process, its metrics and score cards target five areas of government performance: workforce management, competitive sourcing, financial controls, e-government and performance-driven budgeting. "The look and feel is going to change because it's unlikely even a McCain presidency will fully embrace what's being done today," Bjorklund says. "Take the Program Assessment Rating Tool. I don't know if that tool in its current form will continue, but some [similarly] rigorous kind of tool will be used to evaluate performance."

McConnell predicts performance metrics will persist because they are necessary tools when budgets are tight. "Right now there's a lot of activity under the various parts of the President's Management Agenda to measure the performance of agency programs, and that will continue," he says. "It will continue to affect IT investments because IT investments will have to be increasingly justified in terms of how they improve mission performance."

Nonetheless, the next administration must expand its focus beyond metrics, score cards and audits to improve the way agencies work together to address citizens' needs, says Alan Balutis, director and distinguished fellow at Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group and a former Commerce Department official.

"When you look at health care for returning veterans, contracting missteps in Afghanistan and Iraq, toxic trailers at FEMA and poisoned heparin from China, these are the places where you feel like government really needs to improve," he says. "Let's give this administration credit for getting administrative practices improved, but let's move on to the next stage and really focus on cross-government programmatic performance."

E-Government

One component of the management agenda that will continue is e-government, the federal effort to deliver services and information to citizens online. But either candidate is likely to leave his own stamp on it.

In 2001, the administration launched 24 e-gov initiatives to refine how the government interacts with citizens, businesses and across agencies via the Internet. They include improvements in tax filing and rule-making, government-wide portals for information sharing, and security through electronic authentication.

Pundits doubt all 24 will continue, but they are betting that those with the strongest momentum and constituencies will survive. "The ones that come to mind for me are rule-making at www.business.gov, E-File at the [Internal Revenue Service] and E-Payroll administrated by the Office of Personnel Management," says Dan Chenok, a senior vice president with IT solutions provider Pragmatics Inc., who was a career OMB official during the Bush, Clinton and elder Bush administrations. "Also, www.govbenefits.gov and www.govloans.gov. . . . The reason I call these ones out is that each has a particularly well-established user group that benefits."

Observers agree that Bush's cross-agency approach to e-gov will go on no matter the outcome of the election. "It will continue because it's more efficient and saves money," says Glenn Schlarman, former chief of the Information Policy and Technology Branch at OMB.

But most of the initiatives have gone as far as they can go and need to be refreshed with newer technology, says Mark Forman, a KPMG partner and former OMB administrator for e-government and information technology under Bush. "This is not about blogging, but it's about collaborative problem-solving. I expect a good number of the e-gov initiatives to move forward into the next-generation Internet," he says.

Lines of Business

In 2004, OMB launched its Lines of Business initiative to consolidate and standardize processes, apply best practices, and improve information sharing across agencies. The goal is to reduce the cost and improve quality in nine areas: financial management, human resources, grants administration, health care, case management, information systems security, geospatial systems, IT infrastructure and budget formulation.

"I don't think any of these initiatives is going to be killed," Bjorklund says. "They'll move forward under different labels and in different forms, but they make pretty good sense."

IT industry observers agree that the financial management, grants management, human resources and information security are likely to continue. They also expect IT infrastructure consolidation to accelerate as a way of reducing costs. "The IT Infrastructure Line of Business makes so much sense that I don't think anybody is going to come in and say every agency should have its own computer centers and that the government should have more servers rather than less," Balutis says.

Many say the federal health architecture is likely to continue, pointing to the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments' efforts to develop a standard electronic health record for military personnel as a starting point. "The federal government has such a big footprint in the national health business, being the largest payer, that the federal health architecture -- which is likely to be the beginnings of a national health architecture-has got legs going forward and definitely has bipartisan support," McConnell predicts.

But industry observers aren't so sure about case management because it has been difficult to come up with a standard way for federal law enforcement officials and litigators to share information. There hasn't been much progress in budget formulation or geospatial information, either.

Federal Enterprise Architecture

OMB's Federal Enterprise Architecture initiative has been a jargon-filled, technical IT effort, and one of the toughest for the Bush administration to tackle. But prognosticators say it will survive in some form because it has been a useful planning tool for chief information officers.

Enterprise architecture requires agencies to diagram their operations and IT infrastructures and how the two overlap. The result is a standard framework for aligning agency functions, lines of business and IT systems. "It lets you see where there are related, redundant or connected activities across agencies, primarily from an IT sense, and where you can bring those activities together or integrate or even eliminate some that are redundant," says Chenok of Pragmatics.

"Compared to the wiring diagrams of the past, enterprise architectures today are much more about business processes and how business processes are hooked together with data," Forman says. "I have no idea what the next administration will call it, but they will have to do a lot of restructuring of government . . . and they'll have to use something like an enterprise architecture to get a handle on all the business processes and all the databases."

Bjorklund predicts the value of enterprise architecture will only increase. "The architecture provides a roadmap for the future," he says. "It's one thing to document your as-is condition, but it's another to document your objectives. There's a logical sequence of steps that follow. As painful as an architecture can be to create, it is really very helpful.''

But others say the approach won't survive unless it's simplified. "I don't give architecture in its current state much of a chance of survival because it's too complex," Schlarman says. "If they could distill it down to a couple of salient points and wrap it up with security then maybe it can be saved."

Federal Enterprise Architecture

Like it or not, the next administration will be dealing with IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol. That's because the current IPv4 won't be able to accept new users after 2011.

IPv6, which uses 128-bit addresses, can support a virtually limitless number of computers, cell phones and other devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses, is limited to 4.3 billion.

In 2005, OMB mandated that all federal agencies must be capable of sending IPv6 packets over their networks by June 2008. Key agencies have grasped the importance of the shift. The Defense Department, for example, says IPv6 is critical to operate sensors and weapons systems needed on the battlefield of the future.

Agencies aren't required to completely switch their systems over to IPv6, but they must purchase IT products that are IPv6 compliant. "IPv6 will go along as fast as the commercial marketplace," McConnell predicts. "DoD is moving along that road. I think it will continue, but it's a question of how much emphasis will be placed on it and whether the next administration will keep with the deadlines."

The CIO Council is working on IPv6 transition issues, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology is developing a compliance testing program for IT products. "There's a lot of work to be done around what's the right process to enable the federal enterprise architecture to successfully transition to IPv6," says Jerry Edgerton, CEO of Command Information, a Herndon, Va., IPv6 vendor. "That's an effort that will transcend administrations."

Edgerton says the government needs to plan its transition to IPv6 carefully because of security vulnerabilities that will be introduced into federal networks when IPv4 and IPv6 run side by side.

"One of the steps of this whole transition process is to see what are the security vulnerabilities as a result of this evolution and how do you mitigate those," he says. "There are a whole lot of moving parts that are affecting the implementation of IPv6, and that's why it will be . . . a major initiative in any administration going forward."

But will the next administration embrace the promise of IPv6? "The point of IPv6 is to capitalize on ideas that we haven't even thought of yet, such as smart transportation systems for improving safety, reducing congestion and improving the economy," Schlarman says. "Every car and the parts of every car are going to be networked. Everything is going to have an IP address. For agencies whose job it is to think about the future-transportation comes to mind-IPv6 is essential."

Green Data Centers

With electricity costs on the rise and pressure to conserve energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department are working to help agencies measure and reduce electricity use in their data centers. These efforts are so far along, so necessary, and have such bipartisan support that many predict the federal green data center movement will continue regardless of the election's outcome.

The issue came to the forefront in August 2007, when EPA reported to Congress that U.S. data centers consumed more than 61 billion kilowatt hours of electricity at a cost of $4.5 billion per year. EPA estimated federal data centers used 10 percent of that electricity at a cost to taxpayers of $450 million a year.

EPA is developing an Energy Star rating for servers that meet environmental standards, which is due out in early 2009, and has begun work on a similar metric for data centers. Meanwhile, Energy is creating a tool to assess the efficiency of data centers.

"People are looking to technology to solve some of these more entrenched problems such as reducing energy usage by moving to teleconferencing or virtual conferencing to reduce travel expenses," says John Kneuer, senior vice president for strategy and external affairs with security systems integrator Rivada Networks and former assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. "I would expect any administration to leverage the power and benefits of these technologies."

One sure bet is that the federal IT market will not be the same after the election. Both presidential candidates support more open and integrated federal operations, which will lead to changes in IT systems and data architectures, observers say.

One driver is the 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which requires agencies to disclose all organizations that receive federal funding to citizens on the Web.

"We don't have the data quality or data architectures or systems integration to actually fulfill the requirements of the transparency act," KPMG's Forman says. "The government is going to come under a bigger lens. I don't think either presidential camp has thought through what you need to do to have transparency. . . . A whole bunch of systems will have to either get integrated or reengineered."

Another likely development is an increase in shared services and outsourcing because the IT market already has found this strategy to be a money-saver. "I think we'll see an acceleration of shared services that are far along, such as procurement, financial management, HR, infrastructure shared services, payroll and travel," Forman adds.

Still, it likely will be 2010 or 2011 before real changes emerge in federal IT policies or procurement strategies. "It will take many months for a new set of political appointees to get approved by Congress, and whoever comes in January is inheriting a Bush budget," says Bjorklund of FedSources. "The new administration will have to take time to recast IT in its own light."

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a high-tech business reporter based in Indianapolis who has covered the federal IT market since 1987.

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