House boosts Justice; Commerce, State suffer

In its continuing effort to fight crime, the House last month approved increases for many Justice Department information technology programs, particularly those in the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

But those increases came at a cost. The House approved smaller increases for some IT projects at the Commerce and State departments, which are funded through the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary fiscal 1997 appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee was scheduled to consider the bill late last week.

Many Commerce technology initiatives and systems "did not do very well at all," said Alan Balutis, chief information officer and director of budget, management and information at Commerce. At $110.5 million, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program received half the level of funding it got for fiscal 1996. The bill would require termination of ATP and would cut off funding to any company with 500 or more employees that received an award before Oct. 1, 1995. In addition, the Information Infrastructure Grant program, which supports development of the National Information Infrastructure, received a little more than $21 million - a decrease of $10 million from fiscal 1996.

IT projects at the Census Bureau also came under assault. Although the House provided $84 million for 2000 census activities - a $35 million increase - the mark "doesn't give the amount of money needed for the systems planning and developing stage," Balutis said. The House Appropriations Committee asked that a plan be submitted that accurately predict the cost of the 2000 census before the money is spent.

Commerce officials also were concerned about lower-than-requested funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System. AWIPS received $100 million - about $19 million less than requested but $50 million more than in fiscal 1996.

Though it doubled the AWIPS budget, the committee said it still has "grave concerns" about the successful completion of the system. The committee said it will "not be in a position to commit additional resources above" the $525 million cost cap, which NOAA estimates is needed to complete the system.

The State Department's IT programs did not fare any better than those at Commerce, with the committee expressing concerns about State's modernization plans. The department received $16 million for its Capital Investment Fund, which supports modernization - the same as enacted in fiscal 1996 and half of what was requested. Although the committee acknowledges that information modernization may cost $300 million or more, it is reluctant to commit significant resources "until there is a fully developed plan that assures that such funding will be spent wisely."

By contrast, the House added funding, sometimes exceeding White House requests, for many DOJ IT projects. The INS saw a $20 million increase for automation systems and infrared scopes and sensors to fight illegal emigration from Mexico.

The House also asked the INS to consider how it can use the Smart Multisensor Acquisition and Remote Transmitting System (SMARTS) to fight illegal border crossings. SMARTS is a network of sensors and communication repeaters that can monitor large, sparsely populated regions of the border.

The FBI also received heavy IT funding, including $20 million to establish the National Instant Criminal Background Check system for handgun purchases. And for the first time, the FBI was given money under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act enacted this year. The House appropriated nearly $10 million to help states develop or upgrade computerized identification systems compatible with the FBI's National Crime Information Center 2000.

But not all FBI programs were given increases. The NCIC 2000 project, which will expand databases and upgrade technology in the system, received only $10.5 million - more than $6 million less than in fiscal 1996 and a whopping $45 million less than requested. The committee voiced concerns that the project had yet to be completed, was running over budget and was not capable of matching criminal records with nonimmigrant visa applicants. FBI officials declined to comment.

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