$1B IT fund in the works

A Senate proposal would set up a $1 billion fund that some agencies could use to pay for information technology security projects to help protect the nation against terrorist attacks.

The proposal, which may be tucked into the Senate Democratic economic stimulus package to be introduced this week, would fund homeland security investments, ranging from software to help manage traffic if a city has to be evacuated to early warning systems in the event of biological warfare.

The proposal, drafted by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), is modeled after the $3 billion Year 2000 fund that helped the federal government fix computer glitches in time for the date change. The Office of Management and Budget would operate the fund for civilian and military programs and decide where the money would go to improve critical infrastructure and bolster security projects through Sept. 30, 2003.

The proposal could also include critical projects, such as monitoring the movement of hazardous waste nationwide and a system that would verify the identities of airline passengers when they book flights (see box).

"Sen. Lieberman wants an economic stimulus package to be put to good use, and there's no better use than to bolster the nation's homeland defenses," said Leslie Phillips, Democratic communications director for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which Lieberman heads.

Scott Hastings, the deputy chief information officer at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, welcomed the new money but said coordination is essential. "We haven't done well with how we fund and support interagency efforts," he said.

He said the government has fallen short on many IT initiatives because agencies don't talk to one another. For instance, INS and the State Department may buy facial-recognition technology separately, but they use it for the same purpose — to identify possible terrorists arriving in the United States. "Hopefully, we'll be able to leverage data and the infrastructure we already have," Hastings said.

Renny DiPentima, president of SRA International Inc., said lawmakers need to create a "clear vision" of what the fund is intended to do, otherwise, "I fear a potpourri of 100 projects, and it becomes a grab bag of ideas from every agency."

Others agree. "Homeland security is going to require a moon-landing-scale effort at knowledge management across all jurisdictions and across many different departments and agencies," said Bill Piatt, director of e-government strategy at Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc. "It's going to be impossible to accomplish this task without substantial new investment.

Safe investments

A sample of projects that could benefit from Sen. Joe Lieberman's proposal: Aviation security. An early warning detection system that could use a secret intranet and smart cards to verify a passenger's identity when booking flights.

Health network. A national detection system to provide early warnings of a biological attack.

Transportation. Software for traffic management in the event of an evacuation. Real-time tracking of U.S.-bound shipping containers.

Secure borders. A national database and smart chips in passports and visas to authenticate identity. A database linking universities and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to detect student visa violations.

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