FY '99 IT budgets set in White House/Hill deal

Congressional leaders and the White House agreed late last week on a budget deal that will provide funding for major information technology initiatives.

The budget deal has been delayed for weeks as Congress wrestled over issues such as whether to use statistical sampling for the 2000 census and how much money to give drought-stricken farmers.

The "omnibus" budget deal rolls several appropriations bills into one, including the bills to fund the departments of Justice, State, Commerce, Interior, Labor, Education, Agriculture, Treasury and Transportation as well as the U.S. Postal Service. The bill also will give the Defense Department $1.1 billion to fix Year 2000 computer problems.

The president already has signed a bill to fund the Energy Department. That bill includes $306 million for the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative to develop computers to simulate underground nuclear tests. Congress also sent the president stand-alone appropriations bills to fund the departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and DOD.

Some key IT projects covered under the newly forged omnibus budget deal include:

* $211 million for modernization of computer systems at the Internal Revenue Service.

* About $3 billion in emergency money for the governmentwide Year 2000 problem.

* $50 million for enhancements to computer systems at the FBI, allowing the agency to share information more easily to solve crimes.

The omnibus deal also incorporates a formerly separate bill known as the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, according to sources familiar with the deal. At press time Friday, a complete bill reflecting all terms of the deal was not available. The paperwork-elimination measure would require federal agencies to make versions of their forms available online and would allow people to submit forms with electronic signatures instead of handwritten ones.

But immediately divining all of the IT details in the deal is proving challenging for federal observers. "Too often, you literally find out [the details] when Congress is gone and the bill is signed," said Olga Grkavac, senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division.

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