Time for Tech

What's in store for federal IT during a period of transition.

For the federal information technology community, the past two years have been some of the leanest and most uneventful in recent memory. IT budgets have not kept up with inflation and agencies have announced few innovative projects.

But in 2009, government just might see its technology engine rev up, or at least shift out of neutral, once again.

That's the message in this package of stories for the Technology Outlook issue, brought to you by Nextgov.com, Government Executive's online sister publication, which covers the government tech world. The dawn of a new administration in January brings the potential for a boost in IT projects, according to federal and industry IT professionals who participated in a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management. These chief information officers, researchers and executives agreed that the new administration will have a unique opportunity to elevate technology to a central role in a management plan for government. The chances look good, the group said, given the enthusiastic embrace of online campaigning this election year.

New presidents can bring big changes-and Barack Obama and John McCain frequently and repeatedly remind voters they will-making the outlook uncertain for some existing IT initiatives. But it's likely that quite a few programs will live on, regardless of who is in the White House, writes Carolyn Duffy Marsan in her piece on sure IT bets for 2009. Look for the next administration to continue President Bush's effort to consolidate systems and services, and to secure networks against cyberattacks. Other likely initiatives include expanding electronic government and investing in technology that uses less energy. These are ideas that rise above politics. It's hard for any Republican or Democrat to be against saving money, improving services or tightening national security.

Nevertheless, money will remain an issue for many agencies, as the Defense Department tells us. IT budgets for the military services are flat and will remain so, leaving technology managers looking for ways to save money. That might include moving away from managed services, one of the hot IT trends of the 1990s, in which agencies outsource the day-to-day management of an entire network to a contractor. Instead, the Defense Information Systems Agency plans to develop plug-and-play services for its users in hope of providing better capability for less money. This could signal a trend to move more IT operations back in-house.

Of course, talk of a new president inevitably leads to discussions about leadership. For technology, it is no different. So, Nextgov sat down with Kenneth Ruscio, president of Washington and Lee University, who has written extensively on the subject, to talk about what constitutes leadership and how IT is influencing leaders. The interview is part of a package of online features that make up our Technology Outlook report. We invite you to visit www.nextgov.com/techoutlook to check them out and to read the entire special report to learn what IT plans to make for the coming year.

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