Fiscal '97 request hits the street

In an election-year budget that is certain to be rewritten by Congress, the Clinton administration proposed fiscal 1997 funding increases for some key agency information systems and asked to spend more on technology research programs that have had a prominent place among its economic development initiatives.

With much of the fiscal 1996 budget unresolved last week, however, officials from several agencies—especially those targeted by Congress for major cuts this year—said their spending plans are little more than guesses. One Department of Health and Human Services official who requested anonymity said his office was still "running the numbers" for the HHS-wide information technology budget and could not provide any details about its proposal.

"When you compare the FY97 budget with the FY96 budget, we're using our best guess," said John Gibbons, Clinton's science and technology adviser. "We still don't have appropriations bills for the year we've nearly completed."

As in past years, Tax Systems Modernization, the now decade-old Internal Revenue Service program to replace its outmoded computer systems, received among the largest dollar increases in the budget proposal. The administration requested $850 million for the program, up $155 million, despite questions about the project's viability and threats by lawmakers to cancel it entirely.

Other programs, including several systems that are planned to be deployed this year, would benefit from large percentage increases proposed for their budgets.

The Health Care Financing Administration, which runs Medicare, asked for $75 million—almost triple its current spending—to develop a testing facility, start up an operating site and convert Medicare contractor files for the $127 million Medicare Transaction System program. HCFA plans to begin installing MTS nationwide in September 1997.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service wants $119.8 million, a 133 percent increase, for its Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System. The funds would be spent on equipment, software development and nationwide deployment of the system.

The Census Bureau would more than double its spending on technology for the 2000 population count, proposing a $106 million budget for next year to plan and conduct tests of its data collection and processing systems. The agency's budgets for data processing and computer-assisted survey information collection would also increase.

The Social Security Administration's high-profile Intelligent Workstation/Local-Area Network program would get a $50 million increase, to $300 million, to purchase half of the 56,000 microcomputers and 1,700 LANs it will deploy under the program. SSA is waiting for an answer on its $250 million IWS/LAN request for fiscal '96, which was stalled by the disputes between Congress and Clinton over the overall budget.

The fiscal '96 funds were to pay for the other half of the IWS/LAN installation once the contract is awarded later this spring. House and Senate conferees were negotiating last week to give SSA $167 million to $228 million to finish the year.

At the Energy Department, the administration would spend $121.6 million, a 43 percent increase, to fund the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, begun last year to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. ASCI would develop supercomputers and applications to simulate weapons characteristics.

In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would see its IT budget grow by $33 million, to $150 million. Like HUD, other agency IT budgets reflect efforts to "reinvent" their operations over the past two years. For example, the General Services Administration plans several small automation programs that aim to save the government money, said Bill Early, chief financial officer, Budget Division at GSA.

Among those projects, GSA plans to spend $2 million to convert its Real Property Management Information System to a PC-based Windows platform that agencies will be able to access "instead of having them go out and develop systems on their own."

Clinton budgets in the past have backed a variety of technology research programs that have won little support from the Republican Congress. Next year Clinton would boost overall research spending by $1 billion—a little more than 1 percent.

Within that budget, $344 million would go to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program, which funds the development of precommercial technologies that Congress tried to eliminate this year. In addition, the Defense Department has resurrected the Technology Reinvestment Program—another program Congress opposed that was designed to help defense firms develop commercially viable technologies—as the Dual Use Applications Program. DUAP would spend $250 million on government-industry partnerships.

A 24 percent increase in research into new transportation technologies would include $337 million, a raise of 46 percent, for the Intelligent Transportation System, a program to use IT in highway and transit systems.

Spending for High-Performance Computing and Communications would jump 3 percent, to $1 billion, for research into technologies and applications that would facilitate development of the National Information Infrastructure.

At NASA, where IT supports a host of scientific research programs, the administration requested $261.1 million, up 8 percent, for the Earth Observing System Data and Information System. EOSDIS supports data collection for NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program.

But overall funding for information systems at NASA would decline under Clinton's budget by $100 million, from $1.3 billion this year. Ron West, NASA's chief information officer, said the agency, under pressure to cut its costs, will save money by consolidating its systems.

In Other Budgets...

Other agencies would also see their IT funding decline, largely due to changing system requirements. Still others face an uncertain future.

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to cut $78 million from its Veterans Benefits Administration Modernization program, for a total of $842 million next year.

George Vaveris, director of the Office of Information Technology at the VBA, said the third stage of the program, envisioned as a mainframe buy, will not proceed, and those requirements will be met through existing VA contracts.

The Agriculture Department would maintain its $7.5 million departmentwide budget for Info Share, now called the Service Center Implementation program. But how much more the department can spend on Info Share will depend on how much USDA bureaus can contribute.

The Federal Aviation Administration budget for facilities and equipment, which funds the agency's modernization program, would drop 20 percent next year. But the administration would continue to fund key automation programs, including $164 million for the display replacement system.

The Environmental Protection Agency, a battleground for Clinton and the GOP since last year, continues to wait for Congress to approve a new funding structure for its IT operations. The agency has proposed funding its $126 million National Data Processing Division in Research Triangle Park, N.C., through payments from its program offices.

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