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Feds' tech budgets may hinge on cybersecurity prowess

Bush administration's top IT official says she's counting on agencies to fix flaws before eating up more dollars to build new systems.

The Bush administration may withhold technology dollars from federal agencies that are lagging on cybersecurity, a top IT official said Wednesday.

The philosophy goes something like this: The government shouldn't be spending money on agencies that want to build new systems when their overall management processes remain flawed.

"This year we're really focused on making sure agencies are delivering results, investing the taxpayers' dollars wisely, and are really executing now on the activities they said they are going to do," Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for electronic government and information technology, said in a conference call with reporters.

That means agencies must address known security flaws, particularly when it comes to protecting personal information, Evans said. She may have been referring to several high-profile incidents in the past year, including the theft of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs laptop that potentially put data on millions of veterans and active-duty personnel at risk.

The president has recommended that overall IT spending climb by 2.6 percent, to about $65.5 billion, for the 2008 fiscal year. Changes in budget levels, however, vary widely from agency to agency.

The proposed investments reflect the president's broader policy priorities, Evans said. For instance, the $31.4 billion budget for the Department of Defense, which far outpaces any other federal agency (the next highest is the Department of Health and Human Services at about $5.6 billion), "represents the president's priorities going forward to combating the war on terror."

The Small Business Administration could see the biggest percentage jump, with the president requesting nearly a 75 percent increase, bringing the IT budget level from $43 million to $75 million. The Agency for International Development could see the largest decline, with the administration calling for a 34 percent reduction, from $134 million to $89 million.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is considered the government's lead cybersecurity agency, could see its IT budget fall about 1 percent for the next fiscal year, remaining around $4.1 billion. It was not immediately clear whether there was any correlation between that budget request and Homeland Security's history of being dogged for perceived shortcomings in its cybersecurity policy.