Hill demands feds defend IT spending

In many of the fiscal 1999 appropriations bills Congress still hopes to pass before it adjourns Oct. 9, legislators tied funding to performance and have pushed agencies for detailed plans on information technology projects under development before any more money is distributed.

Eben Townes, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc., said he believes Congress has turned up the intensity of its efforts to monitor IT programs because of recent legislation demanding greater accountability from agencies on IT spending.

"This kind of follows on the Government Performance and Results Act [GPRA] and the Clinger-Cohen Act and their emphasis on investment and results," Townes said. "[Legislators] are saying, 'For these big projects, we want to see how you're doing with the precious money we give you.' They want to see that the reforms they have already passed are being implemented."

Deidre Lee, director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, noted that the Office of Management and Budget also has increasingly asked agencies to justify their spending in terms of capital planning. She said OMB has requested that agency IT managers fully analyze their requirements, develop implementation strategies and install systems in a modular fashions. "These are the same kinds of questions that members of Congress are asking," she said.

Gary Bass, executive director of the government watchdog group OMB Watch, said it is not unusual to see requests for agency plans and milestones in committee reports that deal with a multitrillion-dollar budget. However, if Congress links budget reductions to performance measures such as those outlined in GPRA, "that would be quite unique and potentially a bit premature," Bass said.

Because GPRA is in its first year and was intended to be a learning process for agencies, "it would be a crime to see [agency] budgets tied to [it]," Bass said. "If this is happening, [it] may have broad implications for the public [and] massive programmatic impact."

Congress hit the Federal Aviation Administration particularly hard. The FAA asked for $90 million to fund the development of its Flight 2000 program, which the agency believes is central to the national air space modernization program. Under the program, "free flight," pilots could choose the best route, speed and altitude for a flight based on current conditions. Currently, pilots almost exclusively rely on air traffic controllers to select a route from a centralized command and control system.

But the House cut all funds for free flight, and the Senate, citing the lack of a clear plan to develop the concept, gave the FAA only $4 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee wants the FAA to use the money to define a Flight 2000 operational concept and to develop an integrated Flight 2000 program plan. FAA officials have said they are hopeful the wide gap between the two figures can be narrowed during conference.

House appropriators also cited the lack of a clear development plan as the reason to slash an estimated $430 million, four-year FBI project that will allow employees throughout Justice Department bureaus to share data more easily, including everything from e-mail and payroll information to data on high-profile crimes. House appropriators recommended $30 million— $20 million less than requested in fiscal 1999— for the Information Sharing Initiative.

Senate appropriators, however, recommended fully funding the project, which the FBI plans to award in July 1999.

Congress also cited poor planning when it clamped down on the Defense Department's requested budget for protecting computer systems that support financial, telecommunications, energy and other national critical infrastructures.

Despite numerous top Pentagon officials testifying before Congress this summer about the vulnerability of these systems, Congress stripped DOD of the entire $69.9 million it requested for joint infrastructure protection. In its place, House and Senate conferees decided last month to transfer $10 million from the Computing Systems and Communications Technology program to "cybersecurity research."

"The conferees are especially concerned about the deficient planning for such a project given the widely recognized need to address vulnerabilities in the U.S. information infrastructure as quickly as possible," the conference report said. The report also urged DOD to consider using $500,000 from discretionary funds for software security research and testing.

"They're going to need a hell of a lot more than $10 million to make [joint infrastructure protection] a reality," said Rick Forno, former head of computer security for the House.

Congress also directed DOD to incorporate Year 2000 testing into at least 25 military exercises as a means to test, "in an operational environment, the extent to which information technology and national security systems...will successfully operate during the actual Year 2000" rollover, according to the report.

Congress also chose to keep a close eye on major IT projects already awarded. The Senate would require NASA to submit a report in its budget documents detailing all activities associated with the recently awarded $3.4 billion Consolidated Space Operations Contract (CSOC), which will privatize the agency's entire space operation infrastructure.

NASA also would be required by April to submit to Congress a report detailing the savings realized in the first six months of the CSOC contract. NASA also must submit a report on the expected savings every six months through 2005.

The April report should contain a detailed plan for how NASA expects to fully commercialize CSOC functions by 2005, and it should include a discussion of activities in other agencies that have similar requirements for space communications, such as DOD and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and how they relate to CSOC.

A remaining wild card in the budget is funding for the Year 2000 computer date problem. The administration has asked for $3.25 billion in emergency money to use for the problem, but balanced-budget hard-liners, including Rep. David McIntosh

(R-Ind.), chairman of the Conservative Action Team (CAT), are pressing to have Year 2000 funding come from budget offsets instead of from the expected $70 billion budget surplus.

"[CAT members] are likely to succeed on some programs," said a House staff member who works for a member of the Appropriations Committee. "We've got to find the money somewhere," which means programs, including IT-related projects, could be cut to fund the difference.

Olga Grkavac, senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, said emergency funding for Year 2000 is still up in the air. Although Congress' focus on Year 2000 has been a long time coming, "the fate of the Y2K emergency funds [is tied to] the continuing resolution," Grkavac said.

But Grkavac said ITAA members are still wary that the Year 2000 will suck up resources from other programs.

"We're afraid we'll see more and more reallocations," she said. Regardless of how fiscal 1999 pans out for IT appropriations, one thing is for certain, according to Grkavac: Fiscal 1999 will not be a boring year as the Year 2000 and the impending Year 2000 problem become more of a reality. "I think '99 is going to be a very, very interesting year for IT programs," she said.

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Other fiscal 1999 appropriations highlights

* The Senate cut funding for Justice's planned conversion to narrowband radios until the department develops a "narrowband communications conversion master plan." Justice plans to use the radios to remotely share information such as criminal records. The House also did not fund the project.

* The Energy and Water Development bill includes $305.9 million for the Energy Department's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative— $23.2 million less than President Clinton requested. The initiative seeks to develop computers that are capable of simulating underground nuclear tests. The House had proposed funding the entire request, but the Senate wanted a larger reduction, citing concerns that the program was growing too fast.

* Lawmakers prohibited DOE from spending money on the administration's Next Generation Internet project. But the conference committee compromise allowed $5 million for the department to invest in "unique Internet technologies not available in the commercial marketplace'' to support DOE's own networks and links with universities.

* The House and Senate agreed to provide $8 million for modernization for the Customs Service. The administration wanted an additional $48 million for the project, but it asked for the funding through a new user fee on traders; however, Congress has declined to authorize the fee.

* DOD would have to eliminate all duplicate electronic catalogs and direct the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office to establish a single, departmentwide electronic mall system for ordering products.

* Congress directed DOD to create an automated identification technology office to oversee the development and use of smart cards, optical memory devices, bar code devices and other emerging automated identification technologies.

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