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OMB Reports $10.3 Billion on Cybersecurity in FY 2013

While no area of federal IT spending is “off the table” when it comes to scrutiny for efficiency, economy and return on investment, agency spending on information security continues to be an area for focused spending. The latest report out of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) efforts shows that agencies spent $10.3 billion in FY 2013.

The latest FY 2013 FISMA report to Congress provides OMB’s FY 2013 assessment on what agencies have achieved in FISMA-related information security in the previous fiscal year.  Last week, I looked at the number of reported federal cybersecurity incidents and noticed that they were up 25% in FY 2013 across a broad range of categories from policy violations to malware. This week, I’ll look at the spending data reported by OMB within the FISMA report.

OMB requires executive branch agencies to report information security spending data on an annual basis. For FY 2013, agencies reported spending information in the following three areas:

  • Prevent Malicious Cyber Activity – monitoring government systems and networks and protecting the data within from both external and internal threats. Such categories include trusted internet connection (TICs); intrusion prevention systems; user identity management and authentication; supply chain monitoring; network and data protection; counterintelligence; and insider threat mitigation activities.

  • Detect, Analyze, and Mitigate Intrusions – systems and processes used to detect security incidents, analyze the threat, and attempt to mitigate possible vulnerabilities. These categories include Computer Emergency Readiness Teams (CERTs); federal incident response centers; cyber threat analysis; law enforcement; cyber continuity of operations (COOP); incident response and remediation; forensics and damage assessment; continuous monitoring and IT security tools; and annual FISMA testing.

  • Shaping the Cybersecurity Environment – improve the efficacy of current and future information security efforts, including building a strong information security workforce and supporting broader IT security efforts. These categories include the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC); workforce development; employee security training; Standards development and propagation; international cooperation activities; and information security and assurance research and development.

The federal cybersecurity spend in the classified areas of the civilian and defense segments are not reported, but OMB provided the reported spending for the executive departments and agencies by the three categories above. I have put the data into a chart for ease of comparison, but separated out DoD with its reported $17.1 billion in spending due to scale.


Together, the civilian departments and agencies account for just over 31% of the total federal spend last fiscal year and the top twelve civilian organizations account for 29%. DHS’s reported $1.1 billion in spending accounts for just 11% of the overall $10.3 billion in spending, but DHS represents nearly 35% of the overall civilian agency spending in FY 2013. DHS spent 33% of its dollars in the Prevent Malicious Cyber Activity category, an aspect that it shares only with Treasury and Energy among the largest departments.


 

The $17.1 billing in Defense Department spending accounts for nearly 70% of the total reported $10.3 billion in cybersecurity spending in FY 2013. Half of the DoD spend is in the area of shaping the environment, which sets it apart from the ratios of most civilian agencies with the exception of the National Science Foundation (NSF) above. Another contrast is that the DoD spent just 15% of its FY 2013 dollars in the Detect, Analyze, and Mitigate category where many civilian agencies often spend the most.

Each year the information that OMB includes and highlights in the FISMA report varies, sometimes widely. The inclusion of spending data by the above three categories is different from the cost categories included in previous FISMA reports (e.g. personnel costs, etc., which OMB did not include this year.)

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Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @GovWinSlye.

Four Shared Service Providers Announced for Federal Financial Management

One of the administration’s initiatives to streamline operations has been to implement shared services for core administrative functions.  On May 2nd, OMB in conjunction with the Department of Treasury, announced the designation of USDA, Treasury, Interior and Transportation as approved shared service providers for financial management across the federal government.

In March of 2013, the administration issued a memo, Improving Financial Systems through Shared Services, to promote the use of shared services for federal financial management across agencies.  The designation of the four agencies moves this initiative forward.

Shifting financial services management to other providers will allow agencies to focus more on mission-based programs.  Agencies will also gain efficiencies and economies of scale for system implementations, maintenance, and enhancements while reducing costs.

The four providers were required to undergo an extensive application process and evaluation.  Other service providers may be designated in the future as agencies migrate to these four providers and demand increases. 

USDA replaces GSA as an approved shared service provider for financial management services.   USDA offers SAP as their back-end software, as opposed to Oracle which is offered by the other three providers.   

According to Federal News Radio, GSA getting out of the financial management business is “no real surprise.”  They announced last summer that they would be shedding their human resources management offerings.  GSA offered CGI’s Momentum software for financial management.

USDA’s financial solution is based on a commercial, off-the-shelf resource planning product which is web-based and provides funds management, financial reporting, and general accounting capabilities.  The solution has been deployed in 28 of USDA’s administrative organizations. 

The designation of these providers is just one step in the process to implementing financial management shared services across the federal government.  Treasury's Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation (OFIT) will be working with the providers to address any of their needs and concerns, and resolve any identified issues.

 

IT Contracting Half-way Through FY 2014 – Civilian is Chugging, but Can DoD Catch Up?

A year ago at this time, if you will recall, we were watching and waiting to see if federal agencies would have FY 2013 appropriations made and budgets approved or whether they would face full-year continuing resolution-level spending and sequestration. What a difference a year makes, with FY 2014 budgets passed months ago. So how are agencies doing at getting their information technology (IT) contract dollars obligated at the mid-point and what might we expect in the second half of FY 2014? Let’s take a look.

Last week, I looked at the total market contract obligations at the mid-fiscal-year point. This week I’ll look specifically at IT obligations. In this, and other similar scenarios that I have explored, I took a rough “back of envelope” approach to projecting potential contract obligation rates for the remaining two fiscal quarters. For consistency, I will use the same baseline: If agencies obligate at least 90% of what they did in FY 2013, what might that project for spending on contracts in the second half of this fiscal year.

In the latest federal FY 2015 IT budget request, OMB reported the total enacted FY 2014 IT budget to be about $75 billion, which is $2.5 billion (3.5%) more than agencies spent in FY 2013.  So this 90% threshold that I am using for potential FY 2014 spending, while not a perfect comparison, might be conservative. We’ll just have to see.

Contract Obligations Compared

For IT, these twenty top-spending departments account for $16.2 billion in combined Q1 and Q2 obligations for FY 2014 so far, although DoD’s reporting lag will most certainly increase that amount. If they spend 90% of what they did in FY 2013 they will have $43.2 billion left to obligate in the remaining two quarters of this fiscal year. (See table below.) Under that assumption, the remaining federal departments and agencies would account for roughly $1.1 billion for Q3 and Q4, reaching the overall $44.4 billion mark for the second half of the year.

Observations

  • The civilian agencies in the top twenty have reported yearly obligations of $9.4 billion, $8.9 billion, and $9.5 billion for FY 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. So for FY 2014 these civilian departments are currently running on par with FY 2012.

  • The defense branches have reported yearly obligations of $18.4 billion, $16.2 billion and $6.7 billion for FY 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. Granted, the FY 2014 Q1-Q2 data is incomplete due to DoD’s reporting lag, which could take up to 90 days to settle out. So the question then is whether we will see another $10 billion in obligations post to the defense branches in the coming days to put them on par with last fiscal year or whether we will see the softening that’s apparent from FY 2012 to FY 2013.

  • Outside of DoD, there is not that much variance year-over-year. Most departments are within $100 million of what they spend in Q1-Q2 of last year. The SSA, USDA, and VA have posted increases of $200 million in obligations over this time in FY 2013.

What we may be seeing in the data so far – at least with the civilian organizations – is that they are enjoying the benefits of having budgets in place relatively early in the fiscal year, compared to dealing with CRs and late-breaking omnibus spending measures. There’s no surprise there. The real story in the data may be what is happening in the defense sector – that draw-downs, realignments, and program delays appear to be having noticeable impacts on their IT contracting run rates. Only time will tell if they will make up the difference in the second half of the year.

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Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @GovWinSlye.

A Possible Contracted Spending Scenario for the Rest of FY 2014

Can you believe that we are half way through fiscal year 2014? Let’s take a look at the data to see what can we tell so far about how much federal departments have spent on contracts at the mid-point in the year and see what might be in store for us in the second half of FY 2014.

When I looked at the mid-fiscal-year spending rates last year, I proposed what I felt was reasonable approach to projecting potential contract obligation rates for the remaining two fiscal quarters. This year I again set a baseline that in FY 2014 agencies will obligate at least 90% of what they did in FY 2013 to drive my general projections for what they might spend on contracts in the second half of the fiscal year. See my previous blog for a more detailed explanation of my approach.

Contract Obligations Compared

The twenty top-spending departments account for $122.4B in combined Q1 and Q2 obligations for FY 2014. If they spend 90% of what they did in FY 2013 they will have $285.5B left to obligate in the remaining two quarters of this fiscal year. (See table below.) Under that assumption, the remaining federal departments and agencies would account for roughly $4.5B for Q3 and Q4, reaching the overall $290B mark for the second half of the year.


Observations

  • Only a few departments have a FY 2014 Q1 and Q2 obligation rate lower than they did in FY 2013, suggesting that their obligation rates may be higher than last year at this time, depending on total final obligations.

  • At this point in FY 2013, each defense branch had reported at least $3 billion more in obligations than they have reported for FY 2014, even under sequestration.
    • Navy has reported $15.2B for FY 2014, compared to $25.3B at this point in FY 2013
    • Army has reported $12.4B for FY 2014 18B, down from $17.8B for FY 2013
    • Defense Agencies have reported $16.6B for FY 2014, compared to $19.1B for FY 2013
    • Air Force has reported $14.1B, compared to $17.3B for FY 2013.

  • Seven of the twenty departments above saw drops of 5% or more from FY 2012 to FY 2013, five of which are civilian agencies, i.e. Energy, NASA, DHS, Justice, and Education. But without exception each of these departments has reported increases in the first two quarters of FY 2014 compared to FY 2013. Energy, NASA, and Education each show increases of 15 percentage points or greater.

  • Energy’s yearly cyclicality continues. During Q1 and Q2 the DoE tends to obligate roughly 45% and 75% alternately from year to year. Looking back at FY 2011 reveals that they spent $11.1B in the first two quarters, which accounted for 45% of their $25.1B total FY 2011 obligations.

  • NASA also reveals cyclicality in its contracting. In FY 2011 NASA reported $6.4B in combined Q1 and Q2 obligations accounting for 41% of their $15.4B total obligations for that year. Looking at the chart above we can see an oscillation in NASA’s obligations since then with $7.8B reported so far in FY 2014. Depending on whether my 90% assumption is pessimistic regarding their final spending will determine whether they have between 40-50% of their budget yet to obligate this fiscal year.

Implications

Some of the year-to-year changes shown above may be due to the appropriations levels and funding priorities that these departments received under the FY 2014 Omnibus funding bill passed earlier this year. However, what these changes more likely indicate is the impact of agencies having actual budgets earlier in the fiscal year, compared to having full-year continuing resolutions that freeze priorities and limit flexibility.

How useful or accurate this kind of macro-level estimation is depends in large part on its main assumptions. Last year this approach pointed to roughly $300 billion in potential combined FY 2013 Q3 and Q4 obligations. The final data shows that actual obligations came in at $265 billion, so my 90% assumption was optimistic in the age of uncertainty, sequestration, and year-long continuing resolutions. Actual combined Q1-Q2 obligations among the top twenty departments declined from $237.1 billion in FY 2012 to $194.0 billion in FY 2013, an 18% drop.

So far in FY 2014, these same departments have reported combined Q1 and Q2 obligations of $122.5 billion, BUT the four largest spenders – the defense branches – have not fully reported their Q2 data. Looking at the civilian departments only give us $65.7 billion, $57.6 billion, and $64.2 billion for FYs 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively, so FY 2014 is running only 2% below FY 2012 levels and is nearly 12% ahead of FY 2013.  We’ll just have to wait and see what comes from DoD.

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Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @GovWinSlye.

FY 2015 President’s Budget Request – A First Take

The White House released its much-anticipated FY 2015 Budget request yesterday, a month past its legal and historical due date. Several of my fellow GovWin Federal Industry Analysis (FIA) colleagues and I dug right into reading the budget so that we could provide you with our first impressions of what we found noteworthy.

Like any presidential budget, the FY 2015 President’s Budget Request provides a blueprint for the administration’s policy and legislative agenda for the coming fiscal year and beyond. We reviewed the largest federal departments’ discretionary and information technology (IT) budgets to get a sense of direction and priorities for FY 2015, which begins October 1, 2014. Below is a summary table followed by key funding details and initiatives arranged by department.

 

Defense

DoD’s budget request is down this year as FY 2015 discretionary funding of $495.6B represents a 0.8% decrease from the FY 2014 enacted budget of $496B.

Funding highlights include:

  • $120.3B for the Army (a decrease of $1.3B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $147.6B for the Navy (an increase of $300M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $137.7B for the Air Force (an increase of $3B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $89.8B for Defense-Wide operations (a decrease of $2.5B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $199B for DoD operations and maintenance funding (an increase of $6B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $90.3B for DoD procurement funding (a decrease of $2B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $63.5B in DoD RDT&E funding (a decrease of $700M from the FY 2014 enacted level)

Provisions of Interest

  • $128M for military infrastructure in Guam, $51M of which is to establish facilities for Marine Air-Ground Task Forces throughout the region
  • $47.4B for the DoD Unified Medical Budget
  • $2.9B for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
  • $11.5B for basic and applied research and advanced technology development

Agriculture

The USDA’s budget request is down this year as FY 2015 discretionary funding of $23B represents a 4% decrease from the FY 2014 enacted level of $24B.

Funding highlights include:

  • $7.2B for the Food and Nutrition Service (an increase of $124M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $4.8B for the Forest Service (a decrease of $700M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $2.4B for Rural Development (a decrease of $400M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $1.8B for the Foreign Agricultural Service (same as the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $1.5B for the Farm Service Agency (a decrease of $100M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $1.1B for the Agricultural Research Service (same as the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $1B for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (same as the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $837M for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (a decrease of $8M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $815M for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (a decrease of $14M from the FY 2014 enacted level)

Provisions of Interest

  • The Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative provides funding to build a new biosafety research laboratory in Athens, GA
  • $45.2M for the USDA OCIO
  • $15M for IT investments for the Comprehensive Loan Program (CLP)
  • $44 million to address climate change’s risk to agriculture, including investments in cyber infrastructure for big data

Commerce

The president’s budget request provides $8.8B in base discretionary funding to Commerce, a 6% increase over FY 2014 enacted levels.  It requests $2B in IT funding, an increase of 5.3% over FY 2014 enacted levels. 

Funding highlights include:

  • Provides funding for NIST to accelerate advances in areas such as cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing
  • Supports key trade promotion activities to stimulate economic growth
  • Seeks to promote business investment in the US to create jobs and promote US competitiveness
  • Provides $753M for innovative design methods for achieving the lowest cost possible 2020 decennial census
  • Establishes up to 45 manufacturing innovation institutes across the US
  • Continues strong support of NOAA, including $2B to continue the development of polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellite systems
  • Provides $1.6B for research and development
  • Funds a new investment line item for modernizing IT and business processes at PTO ($64.4M)

Energy

The DOE’s budget request is up this year as FY 2015 discretionary funding of $27.9B represents a 2.6% increase over the FY 2014 enacted level of $27.2B.

Funding highlights include:

  • $11.7B for the National Nuclear Security Administration (an increase of $M from the 2014 enacted level)
  • $6.0B for Department Management and Performance (a decrease of $200M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $5.1B for Science Programs (an increase of $100M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $4.0B for Energy Programs (an increase of $300M from the FY 2014 enacted level)

Provisions of Interest

  • $180M in R&D to facilitate the transition to a Smart Grid
  • $325M for Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy programs
  • $141M ($91M in Science and $50M in NNSA) for R&D related to exascale computing
  • More than $300M for DOE cyber security initiatives

Health and Human Services

The president’s budget request provides $77.1B in base discretionary funding to HHS, a 1.7% decrease over FY 2014 enacted levels.  It requests $8.6B in IT funding, a decrease of 10.4% over FY 2014 enacted levels. 

Funding highlights include:

  • Supports the Affordable Care Act and operation of the Health Insurance Marketplace
  • Provides $30.2B to NIH for medical research
  • Improves mental health services for youth and families
  • Invests in payment innovations and other reforms for Medicare and Medicaid and other federal health programs to improve program integrity and delivery of high-quality, efficient health care
  • Invests in a new initiative to improve access to high-quality health care providers
  • Funds construction of two new Indian Health Service health care facilities
  • Increases the investment in CMS IT infrastructure by $58.6M, a 19.4% gain
  • Increases the investment in CMS Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership (HFPP) by $17M, a 354% increase
  • Decreases IT funding for the CMS  investment that developed the health insurance marketplace (-$297M) and transfers to states for CMS Medicaid Management Information System (-$618M) 

Homeland Security

DHS is slated to receive $38.2B in base discretionary funding in the president’s budget request, a 2.6% decrease over FY 2014 enacted levels. The budget also includes and $6.8B for disaster relief. The budget requests $5.8B in IT funding which includes a $3M reduction from the FY 2014 enacted levels, a 0.1% decrease year over year.

Funding highlights include:

  • $514M for research and development in homeland security technology and developing state-of-the-art solutions for first responders – target opportunities in cybersecurity, explosives detection, nuclear detection, and chemical and biological detection.
  • $300M to initiate construction in 2015 of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility to study large animal zoonotic diseases and develop countermeasures
  • $124M to support, expand, and enhance E-Verify system to aid U.S. employers with employment legality verification
  • $112.5M for Secure Flight, under which DHS conducts passenger watch list
  • $3.8B for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening operations. Supports risk-based security initiatives at the Transportation Security Administration that enhance the efficiency of passenger screening operations, while improving the customer experience for the traveling public.
  • $1.25B for cybersecurity activities including:
    • $377.7M for Network Security Deployment, including the EINSTEIN3 Accelerated (E3A) program
    • $143.5M for the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program
    • $173.5M to support ICE cyber and cyber-enabled investigations of cyber-crime, etc.
    • $28M for the classified Homeland Secure Data Network to security and info sharing
    • $67.5M for Cybersecurity/Information Analysis Research and Development
    • $8.5M to establish a voluntary program and an enhanced cybersecurity services capability to support Executive Order 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity
    • $3.9M for Secret Service Cybersecurity Presidential Protection Measures to support monitoring of protective sites which directly or indirectly support a Presidential visit

Justice

The president’s budget request provides $27.4B in discretionary funding for the Justice department, $122M above the 2014 enacted level – for DOJ core law enforcement needs, safe and secure prisons, and other Federal, State, and local programs. DoJ’s IT budget is just slightly better than flat (+0.4%) year-over-year at $27.4B.

Funding highlights include:

  • $722M for cybersecurity efforts to combat increasingly sophisticated and rapidly evolving cyber threats
  • $13M to the FBI for investment in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System as part of the DOJ’s overall $182M budget for Federal, State, and local gun violence reduction efforts
  • $8.4B for Federal prisons and detention facilities, to maintain secure prison facilities and to continue bringing newly completed or acquired prisons online
  • $15M under the Smart on Crime initiative for prisoner reentry programs and for Prevention and Reentry Coordinators
  • $15M to expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program at the Federal level and $14M to expand the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program at the state level
  • $1.7M to develop new multidisciplinary program evaluation and policy analysis capability to improve budget, management, and policy decisions
  • $299M for the Department’s Juvenile Justice Programs
  • $423M (roughly half of which are grants) to combat violent crimes against women
  • $9M to establish a National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice to promote procedural fairness in policing, use deterrence strategies to reduce crime, and encourage police departments to track the quality of their interactions with the public

Transportation

DOT’s budget request is down this year as FY 2015 discretionary funding of $13.7B represents a 2.14% decrease from the FY 2014 enacted level of $14B.

Funding highlights include:

  • $48.6B for the Federal Highway Administration (an increase of $7.2B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $15.3B for the Federal Aviation Administration (a decrease of $584M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $4.9B for the Federal Railroad Administration (an increase of $3.3B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $17.6B for the Federal Transit Administration (an increase of $6.9B from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $851M in mandatory and discretionary funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (an increase of $32M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $669M for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (an increase of $97M from the FY 2014 enacted level)
  • $261M for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (an increase of $51M from the FY 2014 enacted level)

Provisions of Interest

  • $302B four-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal to support critical infrastructure projects
  • Funding for FAA NextGen investments is preserved
  • $370 million for National Airspace System Sustainment
  • $5M for cyber security initiatives, a decrease of $7M from the FY 2014 enacted level

Treasury

The president’s budget request provides $12.4B in base discretionary funding to Treasury, a 1.5% decrease over FY 2014 enacted levels.  However, provides total resources of $13.8B which is a $1.2B increase partially funded by proposed program integrity caps. It requests $4B in IT funding, an increase of 13.4% over FY 2014 enacted levels. 

Funding highlights include:

  • Continues implementation of the Affordable Care Act
  • Continues implementation of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to create a more stable  and responsible financial system
  • Invests $12.5B in the IRS, which includes a $480M program integrity cap adjustment.  Aimed at improving enforcement of current tax laws and reducing the current tax gap.  Includes more than a $100M increase to improve customer service, and an additional $165M is proposed to further enhance customer service through the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative
  • $1.5B for a new round of State Small Business Credit Initiatives
  • Expands the level of detail and capabilities of sorting federal spending data to enable better use of the data
  • Calls for a $227M increase to the IRS Main Frames and Servers Services and Support investment over FY 2014 levels

Veterans Affairs

The president’s budget request provides $65.3B in base discretionary funding to VA, a 3% increase over FY 2014 enacted levels, giving VA total budget authority of $68.4B which includes $3.1B of estimated medical care collections.  The budget requests $4B in IT funding, an increase of 4.7% over FY 2014 enacted levels.

Funding highlights include:

  • $56B for VA medical care, and $58.7B in advanced funding for FY16 appropriations for medical care
  • Emphasis on ending veterans’ homelessness. ($1.6B) Working with HUD
  • Supports continued improvements in delivery of mental health care and telehealth technologies ($7B)
  • $1B in mandatory funding to help put veterans back to work protecting and rebuilding America
  • An additional $400M for high priority capital projects
  • Invests $138.7M in the Veterans Claims Intake Program and $173.3M for the Veterans Benefit Management System to address the claims backlog

Stay tuned to FIA as we will be publishing our complete analysis of the FY 2015 budget request later this month, where we will go into greater detail on the key initiatives, IT investments and contractor implications that will shape the federal IT marketplace for FY 2015.

Fellow GovWin Federal Industry Analysis (FIA) analysts Angela Petty and Alex Rossino contributed to this entry.

Information Technology Provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill

After years of delay, the latest Farm Bill (H.R. 2642) is making its way through Congress. President Obama is expected to sign the bill once it clears the Senate. Officially titled the “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013,” the legislation contains a lot more than provisions applying to agricultural subsidies and oversight. There are several information technology provisions as well that will be of interest to the contractor community. These provisions are particularly relevant to the Department of Agriculture’s use of big data analytics, which Congress is pushing the agency to use.

Ferreting Out Fraud

In 2013 the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) paid out $17.3 billion to American farmers for crop losses due to extreme weather conditions. This amount was a record for the program and that kind of money tends to draw attention. Suspecting that fraud may account for a certain percentage of the payments being made, Section 1107 directs that the Secretary of Agriculture “use all available information and analysis, including data mining, to check for anomalies in the provision of revenue loss coverage payments.”

While this provision does not explicitly demand that the Risk Management Agency acquire data mining tools it can use to find “anomalies,” it does suggest there is a need for such tools at the RMA that industry may want to investigate. However, before anyone gets too excited and begins calling around the RMA, be aware that there is an entrenched IT provider to contend with. Presumably any investment made in response to provision 1107 would be part of the RMA’s Emerging Information Technology Architecture (EITA) efforts, which are intended to “replace mission-critical legacy financial and business systems that are at or past end-of-life and unable to meet the demands of the current Risk Management Program.” This would suggest that any data mining tools required are likely, but not guaranteed, to be procured under a $208 million IT services contract awarded to SAIC in 2011 (Contract #GST0011AJ0019).

Pine Needles in Haystacks

AG doesn’t just insure crops, it also counts trees. In an effort to get a better handle on U.S. forest inventory, Section 7401 directs the Secretary of Agriculture to revise the USDA’s strategic plan for forest inventory and analysis. The key to collecting the required data is collaboration between “the Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and United States Geological Survey to integrate remote sensing, spatial analysis techniques, and other new technologies in the forest inventory and analysis program.”

Again, it’s impossible at this point to know how the U.S. Forest Service will fulfill this requirement. FS has been working for years to upgrade its IT systems. Most of this investment takes place under the Forest Service Computer Base (FSCB) program, with work being performed by a number of industry partners. The FSCB contract I have my eye on that could be relevant to Section 7401 is #IND11PC40028, held by Snap, Inc. An 8a IT company, Snap provides computing infrastructure support to the Forest Service under this contract. Presumably, integrating data from multiple agency sources for the forest inventory program would require work on the systems for which Snap provides support. Should this not be the case, then we could see a solicitation for this requirement in FY 2014.

$55 Million to Go Organic

The final provision worth examining from an IT perspective is Section 9004 concerning organic agriculture. Section 9004 is the only provision in the Farm Bill that explicitly directs the Secretary of Agriculture to make an IT investment. Specifically, “the Secretary shall modernize database and technology systems of the national organic program” and the program will receive $11 million each fiscal year from 2014 to 2018 to get the job done. In short, the USDA will be throwing $55 million at the modernization effort, making this an effort worth keeping your eye on.