President calls for major technology spending increase

President Bush will ask for a 15.5 percent increase in spending for information technology in his fiscal 2003 budget, the biggest such increase in at least five years, according to Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget. Forman briefed reporters Friday on the government's new priorities for IT spending. Agencies currently spend $45 billion a year on technology products and services. Forman said the president will ask Congress for $52 billion and that spending will be focused on his three primary goals for the nation: winning the war on terrorism, increasing homeland security and revitalizing the economy.

Forman said the $52 billion budget request doesn't include funding for intelligence agencies or block grants to state and local governments to help them buy technologies for domestic security. He also said the budget might not fully reflect agencies' spending on technology services, the fastest growing area of federal technology spending.

The budget will fund more than 900 "major projects" costing a total of $18 billion and more than 2,000 "significant projects" totaling $11.5 billion. In what Forman called an "unprecedented review of the major information systems of the federal government," agencies will receive scores of red, yellow and green to indicate how well they are managing their technology projects.

Forman also reported that the administration will redesign the FirstGov Web portal as part of its e-government strategy this month. The aim of the redesign is to ensure visitors get to the services they need in only three mouse clicks. FirstGov will become a "one-stop point of service," he said, and will no longer serve as a mere search engine.

Forman said a significant portion of the IT budget's increase is related to cybersecurity-though, as of Friday, the exact amount of the increase was still unknown.

In November Forman said the federal government spends $2.7 billion on cybersecurity and related critical infrastructure protection activities each year. The cybersecurity increase is intended to support Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's efforts to ensure national security as well as Richard Clarke's critical infrastructure protection efforts. Clarke is the president's special adviser on cyberspace security and heads federal efforts to secure the computers that control the nation's communications, finance, power, transportation and water systems.

Forman also attributed the increase in the cybersecurity budget to the stringent reporting requirements of the 2000 Government Information Security and Reform Act, which required agencies to assess and report information about their cybersecurity efforts to OMB. Forman said every IT business case submitted to OMB must provide measures for security. Business cases lacking security plans were returned to agencies for more work.

Even though the president is asking for more money for cybersecurity, increased funding is not the solution to the government's pervasive security problems, Forman said.

"When we did a statistical analysis we found that the level of spending is not statistically relative to the quality of a security program," Forman said. "That doesn't mean we need to spend less." Better management leads to security improvements, he said. "We're not going to spend our way out of the computer security problem. The emphasis on security clearly has to be at the management level."