House, Senate split on DOD IT

The fate of a $320 million cut in the Defense Department's information technology budget is now in limbo after Congress passed two widely divergent spending bills.

Earlier this month, the House overwhelmingly passed an appropriations bill that would significantly cut DOD's IT spending. The Senate last week unanimously passed its version of the bill, which did not include any significant overall IT cuts.

"We are concerned about the House appropriations taking some fairly blanket cuts in some pretty important areas such as force protection and transformation programs," said Kent Schneider, president of Northrop Grumman IT's defense enterprise solutions. "We are very interested to see what comes out of the conference committee, and we're hopeful that the Senate can exert some influence and restore some of that funding."

The House approved a total of $320 million in IT spending reductions that affect all four services:

* Army: $60 million.

* Navy: $100 million.

* Air Force: $100 million.

* Departmentwide: $60 million.

The recommendations were about $1 billion apart on research and development.

In a statement of policy, the Bush administration expressed concern about the cuts the House proposed. "Reductions of $300 million in information technology spending do not seem prudent at a time when such investment is becoming critical to battlefield success," the statement read.

Each body of Congress, however, passed different but monetarily equivalent $369 billion Defense bills that place a heavier emphasis on joint warfighting, faster mobilization and transformation.

The Senate recommended IT spending closer to the president's request, which was about $28 billion. It also called for overall increases of $1.7 billion in research, development, testing and evaluation.

"I don't think the differences between the House and Senate bills are anything to get up-tight about," said Ray Bjorklund, a vice president at Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va.

"The House typically has a much broader responsibility and authority for appropriations...and is more picky, trying to ensure good, potential return on investment," he said, whereas the Senate tends to focus on major programs. "I think through the conference processes, you'll see it gets closer to the president's request."

The Army's Future Combat Systems, the cornerstone of its transformation effort, received the full backing of the House and Senate, which recommended fully funding it at $1.7 billion.

But lawmakers in both houses are demanding that the service break down the "system of systems" into multiple program elements before it will approve future funding.

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