RealTime IT News

President Signs Homeland Security Bill

President George W. Bush Monday afternoon signed the Homeland Security bill into law, creating a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security combining 22 federal agencies with an estimated budget of $37.4 billion, including $2.12 billion for IT.

The measure represents almost a year of often intense legislative debate and calls for the most sweeping reorganization of the executive branch in the last half century. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the bill on Nov. 13, followed by the U.S., which passed its bill on Nov. 19. Bush called the passage of the legislation "the single most important business" before the lame duck Congress.

The major agencies giving up their independent status and joining the Department of Homeland Defense include the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Immigration and Nationalization Service.

The bill includes allowing the new Secretary of Homeland Defense to designate a lead research organization to help coordinate security research across the government, the academic community and the private sector.

Another provision establishes and funds a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, similar to Department of Defense's DARPA, to help identify promising technologies.

The legislation also includes two provisions that "encourage partnerships between government and the private sector to better protect civilian infrastructures such as telecommunications, transportation nodes and power grids."

In addition, it establishes procedures to encourage private industry to share infrastructure vulnerabilities with the government to help identify and correct weaknesses and calls for a so-called NET Guard, volunteer teams to help local communities respond and recover from attacks on information systems and communications networks.

The combined 2002 IT budgets for the agencies being incorporated into the new department is $1.47 billion. That number is expected to jump to $2.12 billion in 2003. Overall, the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA) is predicting total federal IT spending will be approximately $53 billion. According to GEIA federal IT spending will reach approximately $67 billion by 2008.

Chantilly, Va.-based Input, which specializes in IT market research, issued a report Friday which predicted will spend more than $2.1 billion on IT in the first year. Input said it expects the new government giant will spend money on biometric technologies, data mining and geospatial information systems. Homeland security director Tom Ridge plans to interconnect the previously separate federal agencies through a secure network that will link disparate government databases.

According to Input, the new department will have four priorities: first responders, biological defense, border security and the fusion of information and intelligence. In the next year, the government is expected to award a variety of contracts for information security, reliable communications and advanced knowledge systems.