House panel boosts military IT funding

The House Armed Services Committee last month beefed up funding for key military information technology projects and information security programs, and it passed language that could derail the Army's outsourcing plans for a large program designed to modernize its logistics systems.

In its fiscal 2000 Defense authorization bill, the committee earmarked an extra $10 million for development of advanced security measures for the Pentagon's new Global Networked Information Enterprise, championed by Marv Langston, the Defense Department's deputy chief information officer. The committee also added $35 million to the overall DOD budget for development of improved defensive information security capabilities.

As expected, the bill also contained provisions that would amount to a congressional end run around the Army's waiver of a requirement to perform A-76 outsourcing studies at computer centers in St. Louis and Chambersburg, Pa. This language, attached by Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.), would permit employees at those centers to vie for the business. The centers are slated to be taken over by private contracts when and if the long-delayed Army Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program gets off the ground. The WLMP would manage a $9 billion inventory of supplies for DOD.

Industry has strongly opposed the language. Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, described the provision as "devastating'' to government outsourcing in general. Grkavac said industry intends to concentrate its lobbying efforts on the House/Senate conference on the two authorization bills while also alleviating the concerns that Talent has about protecting constituents' jobs. The Senate passed its DOD authorization bill last month.

Robert Eufinger, an Army civilian employee at the St. Louis center, said far more is at stake than jobs. The WLMP contract, he said, does not "provide sufficient safeguards against the failure of [existing] systems during the development of a modernized system. The most potent safeguards available are the critical personnel resources to keep the systems mission-capable."

In its report on the bill, the committee also raised the status of IT within DOD, saying it had shifted from "a specialized support function [to the] central nervous system of" DOD. It said DOD can only maximize the potential of IT systems in modern warfighting by an "unwavering commitment" by top DOD officials to overcoming institutional barriers to joint programs and interoperability.

The committee was far less critical of DOD IT leadership than the Senate in its report. In fact, the committee praised top DOD IT officials for their "leadership...[in] aggressively attacking the Year 2000 problem,'' and urged a similar "top-level commitment...to the management of the information technology requirements of the entire department.''

The Senate criticized DOD for ineffective management of information systems and called for the department to reform how it develops systems and to improve its financial and information management.

However, the House committee said it "remains unconvinced that the department has made the necessary improvements in managing its $26 billion command, control, communications and computers program. This is particularly disturbing, given the increasing role of information technology in the battlefield of today and tomorrow.''

The report said the Pentagon needs to "increase its efforts to eliminate the remaining unneeded legacy [information] systems'' throughout DOD.

Erik Pages, vice president for programs at Business Executives for National Security, said DOD is "still moving too slowly on eliminating legacy systems" and added that "the committee is not telling DOD leadership anything [it doesn't] already know.''

The House bill includes a $50 million budget increase for the Marine Corps' base infrastructure program (the Senate's increase was $54.4 million) and $19.4 million more for the Air Force's Global Combat Support System (the Senate's increase was $26.2 million).

The House committee also provided an extra $3.8 million to the Air Force to add e-mail capability to the old-tech high-frequency radio Scope Command system that serves as the "sole command and control resource for Air Mobility Command cargo and tanker aircraft."

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At a Glance

The House fiscal 2000 Defense authorization bill:

*Would allow federal employees at software centers slated to be outsourced to compete for the business.

* Calls information technology the "central nervous system of" DOD.

* Gives an extra $10 million for development of advanced security measures for the Global Networked Information Enterprise.

* Adds $35 million to the overall DOD budget for development of improved defensive information security capabilities.

* Increases by $50 million the budget for the Marine Corps' base infrastructure program.

* Boosts the Air Force's Global Combat Support System by $19.4 million.

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