Hill moves to fill IT gaps at DOD

Shortfalls in critical Defense Department information technology systems and modernization programs have contributed to a "state of emergency" in military readiness, requiring Congress to force the Clinton administration to bolster DOD's fiscal 2000 budget, according to a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), a member of the committee and chairman of the Research and Development Subcommittee, delivered a series of five-point papers to House Republican leaders outlining the need for additional funding in the fiscal 2000 Defense authorization bill.

The Republican Conference, which helps organize the Republican Party's activity in the House, soon will deliver copies of the papers to the full House, where they likely will be used to spearhead the debate on DOD's budget priorities, a spokesman for Weldon said.

"There are a lot of [House] members, [including Weldon], who think that the current state of military modernization [and] readiness...constitute a state of emergency that needs immediate action," the spokesman said.

The move comes on the heels of a series of reports by Federal Computer Week uncovering critical shortages and operational problems with air crew survival radios and Global Positioning System receivers, as well as the mounting cost of supporting the NATO mission in Kosovo, which some experts predict may outstrip the $6 billion in emergency funds requested by President Clinton.

"Cuts to the Defense budget have had an impact on the everyday lives of our men and women in our armed forces," Weldon said. "Pilots and crews flying missions over Kosovo and Iraq have not been equipped with proper communications equipment and survival radios in case they are shot down in enemy territory."

Weldon's series of point papers also follows a commitment made by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, to investigate DOD's acquisition processes in more detail, particularly DOD's ability to supply relatively inexpensive IT systems, such as handheld GPS receivers, to military users more efficiently.

DOD's fiscal 2000 budget request totaled $267 billion, which resulted in the first sustained increase in Defense spending since 1985. Included in this amount was $49 billion earmarked for readiness and contingency operations, as well as $28 billion for procurement, research and development, and modernization. In addition, DOD has requested about $34 billion for research and development, with $7.4 billion of that amount earmarked for science and technology research. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which conducts much of the IT research and development for DOD's future warfighting concepts, will receive about $2 billion.

Budget Balance

"The overall Defense budget can be viewed as a balance between funding for today's forces, funding to develop and acquire equipment for the next force and funding to develop the technology for the force after next," said Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, who testified last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee's Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.

However, the services are paying for operations in Kosovo out of their fourth-quarter operations and maintenance accounts, said deputy secretary of Defense John Hamre.

"We're currently using the funds that are in the department's budget that we otherwise would use the last three months of the fiscal year," said Hamre, who spoke at a White House press briefing last week. "If we don't have them replaced very quickly, we'll have a genuine readiness crisis."

However, DOD already may face a readiness crisis because of the mounting costs of carrying out simultaneous operations in Kosovo and Iraq.

"We face a decision around the first of May where [we will] have to know whether or not we're going to cancel exercises for the last three months of the fiscal year if we're not going to get the supplemental [funding]," Hamre said.

Despite the budget concerns, "the squeaky wheels will probably have an ample supply of grease," said John Pike, a defense and intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists. "The problem remains, however, that IT is a rather low-visibility component of the overall DOD posture, and this fact remains clear in the coverage of [Operation] Allied Force, which...has largely ignored all the IT improvements that have vastly improved overall warfighting capabilities since Desert Storm," he said.

Paul Strassmann, the former director of Defense information and now the publisher of Information Economics Press, said that although IT spending could easily account for as much as 20 percent of the DOD budget - anywhere from $9 billion to more than $30 billion - the issue of IT ignorance is a "chronic problem" in DOD. "Software doesn't wear out and doesn't have to be oiled," Strassmann said. However, "DOD's budgeting process is still rooted in Industrial Age concepts. The inability of DOD's [program management] to come to grips with the Information Age is a scandal."

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