With the US debt super committee failing to reach an agreement last month and mandatory costs of about $1 trillion looming, defense IT is now in the crosshairs.
The stakes are high for the Defense Department. From the Pentagon on down to the local level, IT personnel are tasked with monitoring the battlefield, safeguarding networks, ensuring servicepeople are safe on the front lines, and keeping steady lines of communication open between those on the ground and centers around the world.
Back in October, the TechAmerica Foundation reported that IT spending at the federal level will hit $81.2 billion in the 2012 fiscal year but is expected to decline over the next several years to an inflation-adjusted $77.7 billion by fiscal 2017.
But those are government-wide figures. Unlike other divisions, the Defense Department has safeguarded its IT investments over the years and has asked for an 8 percent increase in its fiscal 2012 budget, even though it’s expected to cut $450 billion in spending over the next 10 years.
But with the super committee's failure forcing additional cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars over the next several years, the Defense Department might have no choice but to cut in areas it has heretofore been loath to target.
“If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation’s defense,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said last month.
But there’s more to this than simply cutting funds. Before the super committee’s failure, the Defense Department was working on a datacenter consolidation plan that includes cloud computing and would eventually achieve more efficiency and help the department in its many efforts around the world.
But following through on the plan, which would be part of the federal government’s effort to cut 40 percent of all datacenters by 2015, will cost money in the short term.
The Defense Department wrote in a report (PDF) on the matter last month:
Continuing budget resolutions have delayed the implementation of consolidation plans... Although significant savings are expected in future years, those savings cannot be borrowed to fund required investments for consolidating data centers. Consolidation requires an investment in labor, new and more efficient hardware, upgrades to computer facilities, and increased operating costs when legacy systems run in parallel with new systems.
Surely given all this, the Defense Department has a plan in place to address the potential cash shortfall it will face in the coming years, right?
“In short, it's too soon to tell,” Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins told me in an e-mail. “Department of Defense is not planning for the effects of sequestration. The President's budget is implemented by Office of Management and Budget from which we take direction [and] it has not put out sequestration planning guidance.”
“Sequestration” refers to the spending cuts triggered by the super committee’s failure last month. Whether or not it happens to other federal agencies, many on Capitol Hill don’t want to cut defense spending, and that could very well provide defense IT with the reprieve it’s so desperately after.
“No one wants to go there,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently about cutting defense spending.
— Don Reisinger is a technology and video game columnist.