Federal CIOs Fret Over Budget Pressures, IT Talent and Cybersecurity

TechAmerica's annual survey of federal CIOs reveals anxieties over chronic fiscal constraints and lack of budget authority. But there's more: Add security threats and challenges of recruiting and retaining top talent to the list of CIO concerns.

By Kenneth Corbin
Thu, May 02, 2013

CIO — WASHINGTON--CIOs in the federal government are feeling squeezed. Increasingly expected to do more with less, agency CIOs polled in a new survey from TechAmerica identify the budget as their chief concern, with worries about human capital and cybersecurity following closely behind.

Federal CIOs

The 28 percent of respondents who say they are most worried about the budget report having to channel a large portion of their funding to support day-to-day operations.

That crunch has driven CIOs toward incremental investments in services, rather than making major capital expenditures toward a wholesale overhaul of their operations. As a result, CIOs have been laboring to keep outdated systems in use instead of moving forward with long-overdue IT upgrades.

"We should have moved off of legacy systems five years ago but we don't have the money to modernize the way our constituents want," one respondent said.

[Related: 8 Tips for Retaining Top IT Talent]

The survey respondents say that some 76 percent of IT spending is currently allocated toward operations, maintenance and infrastructure.

IT Optimism Rears Its Head

Dave McClure, associate administrator of the General Services Administration, points out that the perennial budget pressures CIOs face can also carry a silver lining. Over the last several budget cycles--stressful as they have been with funding coming through stopgap continuing resolutions--agency personnel have been forced to take a hard look at where they are spending money and weed out obsolete or underperforming activities.

"When budgets are tight, you have to get really serious about what you're spending money on," McClure says. "I think that's a healthy exercise to go through, because every year if you get your budget you don't ask yourself those questions."

[Related: More CIOs Are Gaining Stature As Business Strategists]

Indeed, many CIOs are coming to understand the "downward pressure on budgets" as the new normal in Washington, according to George DelPrete, principal at Grant Thornton, the firm that sponsored the TechAmerica survey.

"CIOs are resigned to that fact," DelPrete says. "The budgetary situation has really worked to help them find new ways to save and invest."

Many CIOs surveyed report having embarked on tech-related initiatives driven by their budget constarints, such as standardizing PC configurations, moving toward shared services, conducting more Webniars and equipping staff with lower-cost tablets instead of laptops. Some have also felt compelled to make tough cuts like scaling back the hours of operation of the agency support desk.

[Related: IT Budgets, Cybersecurity Top Federal CIO Concerns]

But many of the CIOs polled report that they have little control over the IT budget of their agency or department, a source of frustration for respondents who feel like they're fighting with a hand tied behind their back as they envision new tech initiatives but don't control the purse strings.

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