Budget shores up communications

The Bush administration is seeking major new funding to set up secure communications

networks to use in the event of a terrorist attack.

The president's fiscal 2003 budget includes millions of dollars for

telecommunications systems and other high-tech networks to make sure federal,

state and local governments can talk to one another in an emergency.

Rescue workers learned the hard way Sept. 11 that their communications

networks were not always compatible. The government learned that systems

designed to pass the word in emergencies did not always work. And phone

companies found out that a surge of wireless phone users made their systems

inoperable.

The Bush administration wants to make sure those life-threatening snags

do not happen again.

"After Sept. 11, there was concern about how you get two local governments

talking to each other through emergency situations," said Ray Bjorklund,

vice president of consulting services at Federal Sources Inc. "Now there

is going to be collaboration with the federal government both on the civilian

and defense side."

The budget for high-tech communications is spread across government,

and there are significant plans to make sure there are backup systems in

place. Among the proposals:

* $202 million to create a National Information Management System linking

rescue workers with public health officials and making it possible for early

warning information to be quickly distributed.

* $175 million to help state and local public health organizations buy

the technology to access the networks.

* $722 million to improve communication among federal agencies and with

state and local officials.

* $30 million to create a cyberspace warning network so government and

businesses can counter computer-based attacks.

* $60 million to develop a priority access network for emergency workers.

Some rescue workers couldn't use wireless phones Sept. 11 because of congestion.

"A lot of the funding is going to be put...on the civilian side funding

for telecommunications to provide additional redundancy and robustness to

existing agency networks," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting

Inc., a firm that focuses on the federal marketplace.

In the future, Suss said, vendors would provide packages of services,

including communications that would protect against interruption.

"I was surprised to see the amount of money for homeland security. It's

not surprising that secure communications would be a large part of that,"

said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement,

a Washington, D.C., industry group.

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