DOD loses bid to expand exemptions

In a sly move that ultimately was foiled by congressional leaders, the Defense Department quietly had an amendment attached to the House fiscal 1997 authorization bill that effectively would have exempted nearly all military and some civilian information technology systems from federal oversight.

The amendment, which congressional staff members said DOD misrepresented to the House and the Senate, was expected to be removed last Friday in a conference to settle differences between the two chambers' versions of the bill.

Generally, the amendment changed the terms under which DOD computer systems fall under the purview of the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA), which will abolish the more than 30-year-old Brooks Act and the General Services Administration's IT oversight role when it takes effect Aug. 8.

Under ITMRA, civilian and DOD IT projects will be subject to Office of Management and Budget oversight, which will include the analysis, tracking and evaluation of IT projects as part of the overall budget process.

But as was the case under the Brooks Act, ITMRA included exceptions for DOD systems under what is known as the Warner Amendment. That rider was attached to the Brooks Act in 1981 and made DOD exempt from oversight rules in the case of IT systems that were central to national security, including systems dealing with intelligence, cryptography, command and control of military forces and weaponry.

With those exceptions, "you have a loophole you can drive a Mack truck through," said Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. "What it sounds like is DOD wanted even more freedom."

Coverage for Classified Systems

During markup of the DOD authorization bill in the House Committee on National Security, an amendment was attached that originated in the DOD Acquisition Reform Office and broadened the Warner Amendment language in ITMRA by expanding the exemption to systems that involve "the storage, processing or forwarding of classified information."

"That definition conceivably could cover any DOD IT system, including administrative systems like payroll," said an IT industry source who asked not to be identified.

Others said the exemption would have affected numerous civilian IT systems that have DOD links, including those at the departments of Agriculture, Energy and Justice.

Subcommittee staff members "had been led to believe that [the amendment] was vetted through [the Senate], and it wasn't," a Senate staff member said. "They never informed us about it."

National Security staff members could not be reached for comment.

It is unclear why DOD wanted even more latitude from oversight, especially from ITMRA, which has been portrayed as giving agencies more power to develop and procure IT systems and less intrusive oversight from OMB. But sources familiar with the maneuver said DOD wants no one second-guessing its decisions.

DOD officials declined to comment. "We don't have anything to say about ITMRA," a DOD spokeswoman said.

OMB officials also declined to speculate on DOD's motives. John Koskinen, OMB's deputy director of management, simply said, "It would be appropriate to drop that language."

Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), the primary author of ITMRA, was irate about DOD's move, sources said. On the Senate floor, Cohen attached an amendment to the Senate DOD authorization bill that effectively removed the House amendment.

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