Funding impasse resolved

With just five months left to the 1996 fiscal year, Congress and President Clinton late Thursday ended their stalemate over federal spending and agreed to a $163 billion appropriations bill that would fund more than two dozen departments and agencies until Sept. 30.

The deal could free some agencies to make information technology purchases they have delayed over the past few months, although that is likely to depend on how well agencies were able to anticipate their final budget allocations.

Agencies such as NASA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Justice Department, whose budgets were not a source of major dispute between lawmakers and the White House, could make fairly accurate plans. For example, a NASA spokeswoman said, last week's agreement gave the agency $13.8 billion—the level of spending it expected based on 13 continuing resolutions this year.

Others Still Waiting

But other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Education Department, have been left hanging since October while Clinton and congressional Republicans wrangled over their budgets and missions.

The appropriations bill funding the Social Security Administration, Education, the Labor Department and the Department of Health and Human Services never even got to the Senate floor, making it harder for those agencies to guess what their funding would finally be.

SSA spokesman Phil Gambino said the agency ended up with $61 million less than it expected for its Intelligent Workstation/Local-Area Network (IWS/LAN) program.

The final agreement gave SSA $167 million for IWS/LAN, as suggested by the Senate Appropriations Committee, instead of the $228 million originally approved by the House.

Gambino said the smaller budget would probably push the program three to six months behind schedule.

Meanwhile, whether vendors meet their bottom lines may rest on whether they sell PCs or professional services.

"Probably the services-oriented businesses are going to be more dramatically affected," suggested Bob Guerra, vice president with Sysorex Information Systems Inc., because agencies will not make up for any time they lost on their projects this year.

"With hardware, if you couldn't order it last month, you order it this month,"he said.

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said General Services Administration schedule vendors are unlikely to be hurt much by the time the year ends.

Olga Grkavac, vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division, said vendors are relieved the budget impasse has ended so they can concentrate on their plans for fiscal 1997.

But, she said, because many agencies with major IT programs have had their full-year funding, the dispute had less impact on the industry than it might have.

Don Upson, vice president of strategic programs at PRC Inc., said "one thing the budget adds is predictability" for firms for the rest of the year. But he said changes in the marketplace, wrought by recent changes to technology management and procurement laws, would have a much greater impact on agency spending than the funding delays.

He said the $23 billion cut from federal spending this year out of a $1.5 trillion budget would have a "negligible" effect on IT programs.

ATP Gets a Reprieve

One of the technology programs preserved by the agreement is the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program, allocating $221 million of the $491 million Clinton requested.

Among other IT-related provisions, the bill would:

* Cancel the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's $7 million Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program.

* Prohibit expenditures on the administration's Electronic Benefits Transfer task force. An administration official said the task force had "served its purpose" and that the White House would soon designate an agency to lead future project activities.

* Earmark $58 million to upgrade the FBI's National Crime Information Center system.

* Limit the Drug Enforcement Administration to $4 million for contracts for computer and telecommunications equipment.

* Provide $17.1 million to upgrade the State Department's Diplomatic Telecommunications Service.

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