Funding bills progress on Capitol Hill

The money continues to flow to a number of high-priority information technology programs, including modernization plans for the Customs Service and the Internal Revenue Service. But one favored project — an e-government fund — will only get a pittance of what was once envisioned for governmentwide IT initiatives.

Congress gave final approval on Oct. 31 to the $17.1 billion Treasury/Postal appropriations bill that includes money for more than 40 percent of all law enforcement activities. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The legislation funds a number of IT upgrades at some agencies, including $3.8 million to modernize systems at the Treasury Department and $11.7 million to upgrade systems at the Executive Office of the President.

But the $5 million start-up fund for government.wide e-government projects is a disappointment to many who advocated $100 million over three years to link IT projects across agencies.

"That's a very small amount for intergovernmental efforts. I'm not sure what they are going to be able to accomplish with that amount of money," said Dan Heinemeier, president of the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association.

Still, there should be money to fund intergovernmental projects, said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services at Federal Sources Inc. "Some of the [discussion] going on now is probably going to inject more money into federalwide implementations, and that's all very healthy," he said.

However, he said many in the private sector would be disappointed because not a lot of new funding exists for proj.ects in the coming year.

"I think there are a lot of people in industry who are hoping there [are] going to be some really big pushes for technology spending, and there will be in select areas. But it's not enterprisewide technology that is going to be chosen," he said.

Nonetheless, the government's IT budget continues to grow. For fiscal 2002, it is expected to be more than $46 billion when Congress finishes its work on all the appropriations bills, and for fiscal 2003 it is projected to be as much as $49 billion.

One of the biggest winners in the legislation is Customs' Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), a Web-based system to handle information on imports. The bill provides $300 million next year for the program — $170 million more than the administration requested.

"I am not surprised that ACE funding was increased," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Enterprise Solutions Division at the Information Technology Association of America. "I think the chances were great for increased funding even before the Sept. 11 events, but these tragic events closed the deal. It's likely that Customs will be receiving even more funding in the future."

The $300 million investment is "urgently needed. This money will help the trade community and law enforcement tremendously," said Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.). "If we continue to fund this program appropriately, we will make the transition to ACE on a realistic timetable that will enable us to meet the expanding needs of the trade community and law enforcement, not have a 13- or 14-year proj.ect," she said.

Overall, the Treasury/Postal appropriations bill earmarks an increase of $402 million for Customs' overall budget, including $33 million for nonintrusive border inspection technology.

Lawmakers also provided $28 million for additional inspectors and agents along the country's northern border, which has not received as much money in recent years as the southern border. But Customs is expected to get even more money in coming months.

"Very frankly, that number will go up in supplementals to provide for better security and a better ability to meet the threat that now confronts this great nation," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Lawmakers are making their way through many of this year's appropriations bills, slowed by the events of Sept. 11 and the president's request for an economic stimulus package to help the flagging economy.

Nevertheless, Congress approved an Energy Department appropriations bill that gave cybersecurity a whopping 43 percent increase from the 2001 funding of $76.9 million.

Some of the cybersecurity initiatives included are:

* $14.9 million for the Office of Independent Oversight and Performance Assurance, which handles DOE's online security.

* $30 million for cybersecurity initiatives for DOE's chief information officer's office.

* Additional funding, which was not disclosed, for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for safeguarding the nation's nuclear weapons.

The IRS would receive $391 million through Sept. 30, 2004, to buy IT systems associated with its business systems modernization. However, none of those funds can be spent until the IRS submits to the appropriations committees, and the committees approve, a plan for how the agency will spend the money. The plan must meet certain criteria, such as conforming to the agency's enterprise architecture.

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