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Consolidation Is the New Focus Of IT Contracts

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 4, 2005; Page E01

With a couple clicks of a mouse, you can file your taxes, join the Army, reserve a cabin at a national park or apply online for a student loan. In the past decade the federal government has been wired to the hilt, automating its operations and putting many services for taxpayers on the Web. The feds, it seems, have successfully gone online.

So, now what?

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More than 25,000 people are to converge on the FOSE conference at the Washington Convention Center tomorrow through Thursday to examine the latest gadgets, discuss spending priorities of federal agencies and debate the best way to use technology to make government more efficient. The trade show, the largest such meeting of federal procurement officials and the technology companies that serve them, is owned by a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co.

Government contractors, including the 12,000 in the Washington area, have made billions of dollars helping agencies go digital, and most take every opportunity to glean intelligence about contracts coming down the pike. At FOSE, which once stood for Federal Office Systems Expo but is now its formal name, entrepreneurs try to cozy up to larger contractors, federal officials outline their visions and technology executives scope out their competitors' wares.

Federal agencies are turning to the private sector to help solve such complicated technical problems as how to create secure fingerprint or other biometric identification cards and how to organize databases so any piece of information can be retrieved through the touch of a button.

Although citizens have already seen some fruits of the e-gov initiative to automate services, such as the tax filing system and the federal loan portal, federal officials say the mission to connect agencies and taxpayers is far from complete. But even as work on that front progresses, federal technologists have shifted to a new task: consolidation. The next generation of government computer systems must work across agencies, not just within them.

The need for intelligence agencies to share information without breaching security measures has created a demand for data-mining and storage systems.

Budget deficits and an aging federal workforce have prompted government agencies to search for labor-saving ways to pool resources for such functions as financial management. Such projects require extensive system design and integration work that the government will largely rely on the private sector to provide, federal officials say.

"The objective is the same: cost savings, cost reduction," said Karen Evans, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's department of electronic government and information technology. "So, what is the best way for us to be able to go forward and meet the demands of operating online in the 21st century with minimal risk?"

The federal budget for information technology investments is $60.9 billion for fiscal 2005, up from $58.6 billion last year, according to the budget office. The budget request for fiscal 2006 would increase technology spending an additional 7.1 percent to $65.2 billion. Input, a market research firm in Reston, projects that federal tech spending will rise to $91.4 billion by 2010.

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