DOD IT budget gets $500M boost

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) last week approved a bill that provides nearly $500 million in unrequested funds for Defense Department information technology programs in the 1997 budget.

DOD's Corporate Information Management (CIM) initiative and other IT programs - several of which had been zeroed-out in DOD budget requests - are the beneficiaries of a political and fiscal tug of war between Congress and the Clinton administration.

However, the bill also slashes 1997 funding for the Army's Sustaining Base Information Services by two-thirds, and the Army said it would not request funds for 1998.

Additionally, two major civilian IT programs face significant cuts. The Service Center Implementation program, previously called Info Share, received no funding in the Agriculture Department's appropriations bill approved last week. Additionally, the House proposed terminating the Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic System (VTS) 2000 program as part of the Transportation bill drafted last week.

Bob Dornan, senior vice president with Federal Sources Inc., said the measures "show the propensity of Congress to look to automation to solve a lot of government's problems." At the same time, Dornan said, the recommendation to not fund the former Info Share program shows that lawmakers are not as willing to fund programs about which there is uncertainty.

Windfall for DOD

All told, the DOD appropriations bill adds more than $11 billion to the budget submitted by the president.

"We provided nearly everything [the administration] requested in this budget, [and] at the same time we identified a lot of shortfalls or unfunded requests by field commanders," said House Appropriations chairman Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.).

Although Democratic committee members described the Defense budget embellishments as unwanted and "force fed," Livingston and other Republicans said the administration's austere budget was "out of sync" with what DOD agencies really need in many areas.

One such area was information resources management, where the committee boosted funding by more than $319 million.

That infusion included $200 million for CIM, a 6-year-old program to improve interoperability of information systems among DOD services. CIM was not included in the department's 1997 budget request.

In recent years, support for CIM has waned at DOD, although related areas, such as business process re-engineering, have been more popular.

A DOD spokeswoman declined to discuss the appropriations bill but said the Office of the Secretary of Defense was asking the services to fund their own CIM projects.

"We have institutionalized the concepts of CIM throughout the process," the spokeswoman said. "The purpose of the money [in the past] was to get it jump started at the OSD level early on."

Another $119 million in funds went to other IRM programs, including the Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System (NSIPS), which received $52 million, and the Defense Logistics Agency's Automated Document Conversion System, which received $38.8 million. Both were no-shows in the president's budget.

However, with the new funds for CIM and NSIPS come stringent program management requirements. In the case of CIM, DOD must demonstrate the value of each CIM project before funds are released. The committee also spelled out specific requirements for managing NSIPS.

The bill focuses on IRM because "all the services and Defense agencies could benefit from investments in information technology and software to remedy deficiencies in current operations or to make strategic investments aimed at improving effectiveness for military operations," according to the committee's report.

SBIS Slashed

SBIS is the most high-profile DOD IRM program to be cut. The committee recommended $20.2 million - a decrease of $39 million - based on its understanding of the Army's plans to cancel the program.

However, although the Army has not yet allocated funds for fiscal 1998, "the program has not been cancelled," said Lt. Col. Curt Mattingly, the Army's acting program manager for SBIS.

"We've got funding challenges, [but] our senior leadership supports this program, and we are addressing funding issues," Mattingly said.

The program has delivered eight applications to the field that are being used widely, Mattingly said.

Prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. expects to see funding for 1998, a company spokesman said.

"This same thing has happened in the past, [and] we worked with the Army to resolve it," a spokesman said. Neither the Army nor Lockheed Martin would say how funding would be provided.

Info Share, VTS 2000 Face Cuts

On the civilian side, Congress does not have the resources to address funding shortfalls. Instead, the tight budgets are forcing House Appropriations - like the agencies before them - to establish clear priorities.

That was the case with the USDA's Service Center Implementation program, which will provide the computer systems needed to operate consolidated field service centers run by USDA's farm agencies.

"We decided that, based on the fact that they have $551 million next year for computer hardware, software and related costs, they should take [money] out of that" for the program, said a staff member on the Agriculture Subcommittee. "We will no longer fund that." The $551 million is scattered throughout various agencies in the department, excluding the Forest Service.

In fiscal '96, the Service Center Implementation program received only $7.5 million of the $59 million it had requested. The department had requested $7.5 million for fiscal '97.

The program has been criticized for a lack of leadership and direction and was placed under the direct control of USDA Secretary Dan Glickman last year. The Info Share program office has since been disbanded, and the program is no longer a giant technology buy; instead, it will be conducted as a series of procurements.

The Coast Guard's VTS 2000 program, which would modernize vessel traffic control at major ports, also faces an uncertain future after HAC last week proposed terminating the program. The Coast Guard had requested $9.8 million for the program in 1997.

In April the Coast Guard selected three vendors to participate in a design competition. However, that same month, the General Accounting Office released a report that said VTS 2000 deployment did not have much support among its would-be customers.

The Coast Guard declined to comment on the draft appropriations bill. "We haven't received anything official yet from the [Transportation] Subcommittee," a Coast Guard spokesman said.

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- Elana Varon and Colleen O'HARA contributed to this report.

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