Senate, Clinton clash over Defense bill

The Senate last week passed the fiscal 2000 Defense appropriations bill, exceeding the Clinton administration's proposed budget by nearly $1.4 billion and prompting the White House to issue a cautionary statement regarding what it called unnecessary funding.

According to a statement issued by the administration shortly after the Senate approved the $264 billion bill, the added funding "is not necessary" and "will drain resources from other programs." The White House said the bill provides funds for programs that it said are either not critical or premature.

In its official statement on the bill, the administration focused on cuts in network technologies that it said are critical to enhancing DOD's leadership. For example, while the president's budget requested $70 million for the Defense Department's Extensible Information Systems/Deeply Networked Systems program, which is aimed at accelerating information technology research, and $40 million for the Next Generation Internet (NGI) program, the Senate cut $25 million and $9 million from these programs, respectively.

Speaking last week on the House floor, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.) said that despite the president's call for increased modernization funding, the administration's budget proposal "has fallen short of the rhetoric." Even with the increased funding Congress provided, "we are only managing the risk [to our military capability], not eliminating it," Spence said.

However, while programs such as the Extensible Information Systems and NGI took cuts, the Senate provided significant increases in other areas, particularly in the National Guard's account. In addition to providing more than $79 million to the Guard for the formation of 17 additional Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection (RAID) teams, which would use cutting-edge information technologies to counter terrorist attacks involving chemical or biological weapons, the Senate also directed the Guard to form a planning cell in advance of possibly taking over responsibility for the National Missile Defense program.

According to the Senate report on the bill, which lays out the rationale behind the funding for each program, the Army must deliver to Congress a report on the status of the Guard taking over the NMD mission. The Army also must develop a concept of operations for the high-tech, IT-intensive network of ballistic missile interceptors.

John Pike, a defense and intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, said shifting responsibility for NMD to the Guard is very sensible, given the fact that it already handles continental air defense for the U.S. military.

In addition to NMD, the Senate also approved $45 million for expanding the National Guard's distance-learning network, which is currently fielded nationwide. "The committee urges the National Guard Bureau to examine partnering opportunities with universities and state governments" to help enhance the network's "long term viability," the report said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee urged DOD to study a National Guard pilot project on automated scheduling and financial management for possible DOD-wide use. Known as the Project Management System, the program uses commercial IT products to provide integrated scheduling and financial management information to decision-makers, according to the report.

The Senate also added $10 million to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency's account for developing airfield safety databases that would provide pilots with real-time information regarding obstructions and terrain hazards. The move comes after a heated debate in both chambers of Congress on the environmental and technical factors that contributed to a high-profile accident involving a Marine Corps jet that struck a ski gondola in the Italian Alps, killing 20 people. Many in Congress said they believed the jet's lack of updated IT systems contributed significantly to the accident [FCW, March 8].

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