Lawmakers propose Defense IT cuts

Defense Department information technology executives are bracing for a possible decrease in the Pentagon's IT budget.

Faced with the ongoing costs of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the House and Senate versions of the Defense Authorization bill propose cutting DOD's IT spending.

The suggested cuts are relatively small. The House has proposed a $726 million reduction in DOD's $27.4 billion IT budget for fiscal 2005, and the Senate has proposed a $200 million cut. But they are significant because they could be the first cuts in Defense IT in recent years.

In a statement of administration policy, White House officials said the proposed cuts would hurt the military's warfighting capabilities.

One industry official said the proposed reductions illustrate that lawmakers still do not fully appreciate the importance of IT programs. Members "talk a lot about IT's importance, but its funding is always questioned or cut," said Joe Tasker, senior vice president and general counsel for the Information Technology Association of America, adding that the reduction practice happens throughout the government.

Air Force chief information officer John Gilligan said, "My net view is of something positive. They didn't reflect sweeping cuts. I heard there was going to be another

$2 billion IT cut across DOD."

The House version of the Defense authorization bill has been approved, but the Senate is still debating the measure. The differences between the two bills will need to be resolved in a House/Senate conference committee.

In fiscal 2004, DOD officials faced IT budget cuts of almost $2 billion. Lawmakers largely rescinded those cuts by the time the final bill was approved.

For fiscal 2005, the House's $726 million in proposed cuts are:

DOD-wide initiatives — $274.7 million.

Navy — $172 million.

Air Force — $153.3 million.

Army — $126 million.

The Senate's $200 million cuts are:

DOD-wide initiatives — $98.3 million.

Army — $40.6 million.

Air Force — $25 million.

Navy — $36.1 million.

The program that would be reduced the most is the Navy's Converged Enterprise Resource Planning Program. The House has proposed a $100 million cut for that program.

The bill also proposed a $75.4 million cut in the Horizontal Fusion program, which is DOD's effort to enable warfighters and analysts to more easily post and access information on a militarywide intranet. The program is part of the agency's significant turn toward network-centric operations, which emphasizes the power of networks in warfighting.

DOD received $156 million in fiscal 2004 for Horizontal Fusion. The Bush administration's budget for fiscal 2005 requested $224 million for the program. Chris Condon, congressional liaison for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration, said DOD officials are working to get that money reinstated.

Despite the proposed cuts, military IT officials believe they can now better explain their budget needs to lawmakers. For fiscal 2005, DOD officials split the budget request into business and warfighting IT sections.

"There are less marks than last year," Gilligan said.

But lawmakers again scolded DOD officials for lax management of IT systems and policy.

The House's version of the bill states, "While the committee supports network-centric operations and warfare initiatives that support military missions,...the committee remains concerned about the department's lack of control and management oversight of the development and investments in business IT systems."

In the Senate version of the bill, lawmakers said the reduction is tied to DOD's delay in launching its financial management architecture and "the lack of progress in providing adequate justification for new business information systems investments."

Gilligan said military IT officials must continue to clearly communicate their needs to Congress because of the perception among lawmakers that they do not spend IT dollars efficiently. DOD officials must also clearly demonstrate the benefits of its IT programs.

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