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RealTime IT News

Paving Cow Paths? Bush IT Budget Seeks Modernization

Modernizing the myriad, frequently outdated and often vulnerable federal IT systems is a daunting task no matter the administration. There is, for instance, a problem known as "paving cow paths," where agencies decide to automate what amounts to management problems instead of applying modern e-business tactics. Even then, the projects are rarely delivered on time and on budget.

There is rampant redundant IT buying where entrenched bureaucracies spend taxpayer dollars for the same systems with little regard for an overall inter-agency plan or maximizing the government's economies of scale. That same mentality creates islands of automation which, in turn, leads to little collaboration or cooperation between agencies.

All of which leads to a skeptical, budget-conscious Congress. Just last month, the Senate slashed $40 million from a $45 million E-Gov program proposed by President Bush. While the issue is still to be resolved in a conference committee of House and Senate members, the case underscores the difficulty of any administration seeking to update the federal IT system.

In his 2004 budget request (Congress has yet to approve the 2003 budget three months into the federal fiscal year), Bush's $2.23 trillion budget request for 2004 earmarks almost $60 billion in IT projects. The big potential winners for increased technology spending are the Department of Defense ($24 billion) and the new Homeland Security Department ($3.8 billion).

While it remains an open debate whether Congress will actually approve Bush's proposals, the following is an agency-by-agency breakdown of proposed IT spending for the fiscal 2004 budget:

Defense: The Pentagon's overall $380 billion request includes $24 billion for IT. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield recently characterized the military as an "Industrial Age organization living in an Information Age world." Rumsfield said two of the military's top IT goals are to link the various U.S. armed forces to allow them to better coordinate joint efforts and protecting U.S. networks from attack.

On Friday, it was also revealed the Pentagon is preparing plans to possibly launch cyber attacks against enemies.

Included in the $24 billion IT request is $452 million on transformational laser satellite communications to ease bandwidth problems, $478 million for programmable, software-centric radios, and $426 million for cryptologic modernization. The budget also calls for $1.8 billion over the next six years for both live and virtual joint training of military forces.

Homeland Security: The largest part of the $3.8 billion IT budget goes to four agencies merging into the new department: the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration. High priority budget items include agency-to-agency IT infrastructure, new intelligence systems, network security and homeland security-related projects at Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Commerce: A loser in the overall IT budget, Bush wants to end Commerce's Advanced Technology Program (ATP), a controversial project that funds technology with commercial promise. Critics call it a form of corporate welfare while supporters claim it funds high-risk, but promising, technology. After requesting $145 million in the 2003 budget, the administration has slashed funding for the program to $31 million.

Commerce did receive a $70 million increase in funding for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's ongoing efforts to bring the agency online.

Education: In hopes of modernizing the agency's student aid programs and improving its financial management systems, Education is asking for $427 million in IT funding, a $17 million increase from the 2003 budget. A major part of that funding would go to developing user-friendly systems that allow easy access by students, schools and lenders to the department's Web portals.

Energy: The administration is seeking $2.5 billion in IT funding ($21 million less than in 2003), primarily for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). While overall IT spending at the NNSA is projected to be $21 million less than in 2003, funding for network security rises almost 3 percent to $64.2 million.

EPA: More than $200 million is slated for the agency's primary IT center, the Office of Environmental Information. The budget request is $42 million more than the 2003 request.

GSA: Home of the controversial E-Gov initiatives, which became oa target of Congressional budget slashing last month (see above).

HHS: Of the requested $539 billion for HHS, $3.6 billion would be dedicated to antibioterrorism funding and $119.8 million would go to the Food and Drug Administration for protecting the food supply. Included in this is $10.5 million to implement a new registration system for domestic and foreign food production, handling and storage facilities. Food facilities must register with the FDA by Dec. 12, allowing the agency to regulate the more than 400,000 food facilities in the country.

Labor: Although its $417 million IT budget is six percent smaller than last year, the department says it intends to continue funding its GovBenefits initiative, a centralized Web site offering citizens benefits information. Labor also plans to spend on expanding its financial management systems.

State: At $939 million, the department is seeking a 5 percent increase over 2003 funding levels for upgrading message and document archiving.

USDA: A surprising winner in the IT budget, the administration is seeking $178 million (a $45 million increase) for Ag's Common Computing Environment (CCE), a Web-based program to analyze land and soil data electronically. The agency also is seeking $177 million in 2004, an increase of $44.5 million, to upgrade its County Service Centers, most of which will be used to provide geographic information system (GIS) technologies to these offices, allowing farmers and ranchers more access to satellite mapping and planting information. County Service Centers are located throughout the U.S. and utilized by producers and other constituents to receive programs and services administered by USDA.