Commerce CIO wants ‘a little more rigor’ in agency IT budgeting

Also: NewPay receiving $20 million would be nice, but only if other agencies have the resources to share the service, says the initiative's director.
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The Department of Commerce’s CIO would like to see greater accountability where agency IT budgets are concerned.

André Mendes, who was appointed acting CIO in August and now holds the permanent role, said he’s found previous federal budgets “relatively generous” and “would actually like to see a little more rigor.”

Cybersecurity appropriations, in particular, tend to be “sacrosanct” with CIOs reluctant to hold onto the money in case a breach occurs that will call into question their lack of spending, Mendes said during an AFFIRM panel discussion Thursday.

“There’s a need for new thinking from a budgetary standpoint that we should work hard for every dollar we get; we should justify it,” he said. “And then we should constantly bring value to the table that enables the cost of IT overall to continue to go down.”


Often all CIOs bring to the budgeting table are the projects they want to work on that year tied to regulatory frameworks or modernization, and IT begins to be thought of as a “black hole,” Mendes added.

Commerce spends about 30% of its budget on IT driven by heavy users like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute for Standards and Technology, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Census Bureau. But the International Trade Administration, where Mendes served previously as CIO, only spends 10% of its budget on IT because of its cloud-first environments and abstraction layers.

As a result, the agency can focus on automating processes for speed and reduced errors while freeing up employees for other work tied to mission areas like tariffs.

“We start being thought of less as cost centers but innovation centers,” Mendes said. “And I think that would be a tremendous boon to IT overall because otherwise, all we’ve got to do is pushback.”

NewPay hoping for the best


Mendes wasn’t the only IT official Thursday focused on the realities of federal budgeting. The General Services Administration’s Amy Haseltine is responsible for the launch of the federal government’s modernized shared service for payroll in a time of uncertain funding.

Haseltine directs the GSA’s NewPay initiative, transitioning agencies from aging payroll systems to Software-as-a-Service solution. GSA awarded the first two, multi-million dollar task orders for the modernization effort in September, but Federal CIO Suzette Kent said it will take several years to see results.

The Trump Administration proposed $20 million for NewPay in its fiscal 2021 budget, but Haseltine said her office is planning with the funds it has and hoping for the best.

Even if NewPay does receive the additional funding, the shared service is only as good as the agencies that use it, she added.

“It’s not just about whether the NewPay project happens to have additional resources, but it’s really what is the governmentwide investment in thinking through how to participate and join or take advantage of a shared service,” Haseltine said. “And are there resources and dollars available for those folks to do that?”

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