Obama Budget Boosts R&D, Security, Cloud Efforts

White House budget proposal carries funding for new research, shoring up digital infrastructure, streamlining federal computing operations.

As administration officials begin making the rounds today on Capitol Hill pitching President Obama's $3.8 trillion budget, the focus is on creating jobs and reviving the battered economy, but scattered throughout the 670 pages of fiscal expenditures and analysis are several key IT initiatives that aim to advance the ambitious White House technology agenda.

The proposed 2011 budget places a strong emphasis on research and development, with funding for experimental projects at various federal agencies seeking to develop novel technologies in areas like clean energy, nanotechnology and medicine.

In total, the budget proposes $61.6 billion for federal civilian R&D ($147.7 billion overall), a down payment on Obama's long-term goal of growing federal research expenditures to 3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

Obama proposed $712 million for the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), a research arm of the Department of Commerce, to focus on energy technology, biomanufacturing and cybersecurity.

For NIST, the proposed budget would amount to a 34 percent increase over the $533 million disbursement in the 2010 budget, and would build on the $240 million set aside for NIST's research activities in the stimulus bill, which also allocated an additional $180 million for the construction of new facilities.

In his plan for science and innovation announced last April, Obama said he aimed to double the funding for basic research at NIST, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The proposed budget also seeks to make the tax credit for industry-funded R&D permanent.

In the area of cybersecurity, many of the specifics of the budget requests are confidential. The administration proposed $364 million for the National Cyber Security Division at the Department of Homeland Security, a modest increase over the $355 million the unit received in the fiscal 2010 budget, but short of the department's own request of $379 million.

DHS has been one of the focal points in the government's ongoing federal overhaul of cybersecurity operations. In October, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced plans to hire as many as 1,000 cybersecurity experts, while the information systems within DHS's Transportation Security Authority came under fire toward the end of the year, first for posting a security gaff that saw a confidential airport screening manual turn up on the Internet, then for the apparent communication breakdown that failed to respond to warnings about the alleged attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day. In the meantime, Erroll Southers, Obama's nominee to head the TSA, withdrew his name from consideration after his confirmation process became mired in a political deadlock, leaving the embattled agency still without a permanent administrator.

Much of the budgetary focus on cybersecurity rests in the military and intelligence communities, though the specific funding recommendations were not disclosed.

In the proposed Defense Department budget, the administration identified technologies such as cybersecurity and electronic warfare as "key components in the ongoing task of rebalancing the military to focus on current and emerging threats."

In the classified funding request for the National Intelligence Program, the administration framed its proposal around the comprehensive cybersecurity initiative Obama set in motion last year with a sweeping policy review that culminated in the December appointment of Howard Schmidt to head the process of coordinating and strengthening the nation's information systems.

"The U.S. information infrastructure -- including telecommunications and computer networks and systems, and the data that reside on them -- is critical to virtually every aspect of modern life," the administration said in its budget outline. "Threats to our information technology infrastructure endanger our national and economic security and our citizens' privacy and, therefore, are an important policy focus of the government."

The Obama budget also includes modest proposals to modernize the federal government's computing systems, including a pilot program to test-drive cloud-computing initiatives.

"Adoption of a cloud-computing model is a major part of the strategy to achieve efficient and effective IT," the administration said.

For a company like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which has been enthusiastically promoting federal migration to the cloud, that provision came as welcome news.

"Everyone talks about the capacity of cloud computing to transform government and reduce costs," Google Policy Counsel Harry Wingo said in a blog post. "But the vast majority of the federal government's IT spending today is spent on traditional desktop or client-server computing. And until that changes, the federal government won't have the ability to tap the true potential of cloud computing."

The administration also outlined its plans to increase the use of social media throughout the government, continue to consolidate the often underused federal data centers and boost security of government systems.

In total, the administration is requesting $79.4 billion for federal IT expenditures, a 1.2 increase from the 2010 allocation of $78.4 billion.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: cloud computing, cybersecurity, budgets, R&D, budget

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