Obama's $3.8 trillion proposed budget: Parsing the tech priorities

President Obama rolled out his $3.8 trillion proposed fiscal 2011 budget and technology projects abound throughout the Federal government's departments and agencies. We read the budget with technology in mind so you don't have to.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

President Obama rolled out his $3.8 trillion proposed fiscal 2011 budget that's teeming with technology projects throughout the Federal government's departments and agencies.

I went through the budget with an information technology lens so you don't have to. Here's a look at the notable technology projects and investments (blog, tables by agency).

Department of Defense: Better health IT infrastructure

The $548.9 billion proposed Department of Defense budget is 3.4 percent higher than the 2010 enacted level. Aside from the usual - weapons systems, prosecuting two wars and cutting high risk contracts - a lot of the budget is focused on medical care for the troops.

According to the budget overview:

This funding increase allows DOD to address its highest priorities, such as the President’s commitment to reform defense acquisition, develop a ballistic missile defense system that addresses modern threats, and continue to provide high quality healthcare to wounded servicemembers.

That last point is going to require an investment in health IT. The DOD budget includes a proposed $30.9 billion for medical care in fiscal 2011, up 5.8 percent from 2010. While the IT spend isn't detailed, the funding provides:

Support for DOD’s efforts to update its health information technology infrastructure, while partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the private sector to pursue the Administration’s goal of building a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record to deliver care and benefits to servicemembers and veterans with efficiency and accuracy.

Separately, the Veterans Affairs branch has a proposed $3.3 billion information technology budget, flat with 2010.

Department of Commerce: NIST gets $712 million

In the Department of Commerce budget, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is proposed to get $712 million. The charge:

This funding will support advanced measurement and standards development at NIST that will facilitate the economy-wide development and adoption of a wide variety of new technologies, ranging from nanotechnology and computer security advances to energy conservation systems. The Budget also provides $80 million for the Technology Innovation Program, which invests in high-impact research that will address critical national needs and advance innovation. The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership will receive $130 million to enhance the competitiveness of the Nation’s manufacturers by facilitating the adoption of more efficient manufacturing processes.

In addition, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will have full access to its fee collections and will use those dollars to improve the speed and quality of patent exams.

National Intelligence Program: Cyber security a focus

Obama's budget doesn't give funding levels for the National Intelligence Program, but does give a nod to cyber security policy. According to the budget:

The 2011 Budget supports actions detailed in the Cyberspace Policy Review and continues activities begun as part of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.

National Science Foundation: Pushing green tech

As part of President Obama's proposed $3.8 trillion budget, the National Science Foundation is getting an 8 percent funding increase with efforts to push along sustainability research and science education.

Overall, the National Science Foundation is projected to have a $7.4 billion budget for fiscal 2011, up 8 percent from 2010. In that sum, there's $766 million for a "cross-agency sustainability research effort focused on renewable energy technologies and complex environmental- and climate-system processes.

In addition, there's a 14 percent increase in funding for building out the science and technology workforce. To that end, the National Science Foundation will dedicate at least 5 percent of its undergrad and graduate fellowship, scholarship and training programs to push students to clean energy careers.

Department of Energy: Big bets

The Department of Energy's proposed $28.4 billion fiscal 2011 budget includes:

  • $300 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy "to accelerate game-changing energy technologies in need of rapid and flexible experimentation or engineering.
  • Support for the modernization of the U.S. electric grid.
  • A 4.6 percent budget increase for the Office of Science to support research on "transformational scientific discoveries."

Department of Health and Human Services: Healthcare meets IT

The proposed $81.3 billion HHS budget includes $110 million for health IT coordination and research. The funding is designed to "to assist providers with adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records."

Department of Homeland Security: Advanced screening technology

The Department of Homeland Security got a proposed $44 billion and there's a $734 million chunk designed to deploy "up to 1,000 new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) screening machines at airport checkpoints and new explosive detection equipment for baggage screening in 2011."

Department of Transportation: New air traffic control system needed

According to Obama's budget, the Department of Transportation is taking the needed for a next-gen air traffic control system more seriously.

From the budget:

The Budget provides $1.14 billion, more than a 30 percent increase from 2010 for the Next Generation Air Transportation System. NextGen is the Federal Aviation Administration’s long-term effort to improve the efficiency, safety, and capacity of the aviation system. The 2011 Budget supports the transformation from a national ground-based radar surveillance system to a more accurate satellite-based surveillance system; the development of more efficient routes through the airspace; and the improvement of aviation weather information.

Department of Treasury: IRS meets customer service

The IRS is getting an $8 billion investment to modernize systems and improve customer service---and oh yeah drive new revenue via better collections. The total Department of Treasury funding for fiscal 2011 is $13.94 billion, up from $13.5 billion in 2010.

First the customer service talk:

The Administration will improve the quality of IRS services to taxpayers, providing for a better tax filing experience. The Budget provides additional resources for high-quality phone service so that taxpayers’ questions are answered quickly and correctly. A top priority of the IRS is to promptly and correctly answer a taxpayer’s question the first time asked, through the most efficient and taxpayer-friendly means.

And then the database improvements:

The Budget supports the IRS’ continued progress in reducing the tax gap through fair, robust, and equal application of the tax laws— including new revenue-generating enforcement initiatives that will increase recovery of tax debts by nearly $2 billion a year once the initiatives are fully mature in 2013. This set of initiatives will be balanced with an increased focus on IRS modernization, for which the Budget makes a significant commitment through nearly $200 million in targeted investments in the IRS’ new core taxpayer database and processing platform. Once complete, this modernized system will improve both the taxpayer experience through, for example, enhanced service capabilities such as more individualized self-service offerings, as well as the IRS’ operational effectiveness.

And then the collection gains:

The Budget will increase collections of delinquent debt owed to the Federal Government, as well as child support payments through States, expand the use of electronic payment and collection transactions, and propose other cross-cutting initiatives that are expected to yield approximately $2 billion in savings over the next 10 years.

NASA: So long Constellation

The biggest news out of NASA is that the Constellation program to get back to the moon was cut. NASA's budget is going up: $19 billion compared to $18.7 billion in 2010. However, NASA is being refocused. The space operations budget was cut to $4.88 billion proposed for fiscal 2011, down from $6.15 billion in 2010.

Meanwhile, funding for science, exploration and aeronautics and space research technology was bumped higher.

Here's the rationale for killing Constellation:

NASA’s Constellation program—based largely on existing technologies - was begun to realize a vision of returning astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. However, the program was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies. Using a broad range of criteria, an independent review panel determined that even if fully funded, NASA’s program to repeat many of the achievements of the Apollo era, 50 years later, was the least attractive approach to space exploration as compared to potential alternatives. Furthermore, NASA’s attempts to pursue its Moon goals had drawn funding away from other NASA programs, including robotic space exploration, science, and Earth observations.

The realignment of NASA will focus it on R&D for future space missions via a low-cost heavy-lift rocket platform; more robotic missions; help for commercial space transportation; and a phase-out of the Space Shuttle program in an orderly fashion.

Editorial standards