Justice seeks $2B for IT, workers

The Justice Department would spend about $2 billion buying information technology and hiring technology workers under the budget President Bush submitted to Congress Feb. 4.

Overall, the department is asking for $30.2 billion in fiscal 2003, up from the $26.8 billion originally approved for this year. The fiscal 2002 funding later was increased to $28.9 billion when Congress added emergency funding for the Justice Department to use for the war against terrorism.

Information technology has become a significant factor since the department refocused its strategic plan last fall to make counterterrorism its top priority, a senior aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

In the 2003 budget, the department and its subsidiaries are turning to technology to help secure the nation's borders, better share intelligence and tighten information security inside and outside the government.

The department also has decided to help localities buy new electronic voting machines.

The largest single technology program in the Bush spending plan is a $400-million-a-year election reform program for the Office of Justice programs. The office would pay half the cost of new voting machines if states buy machines that meet standards to be developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The program would run for three years, for a total of $1.2 billion. The need for better voting technology became apparent when the month-long dispute over who won the 2000 presidential election had to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Most of the rest of the Justice Department's technology spending is aimed at the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The INS is to receive $362 million to buy a comprehensive land, sea and air entry and exit system that would keep track of foreign nationals entering the United States. At present, the INS checks visas and other documents of visitors as they enter the country, but does little to keep track of them once they are here.

Immigration reform advocates say millions of foreigners have remained in the United States on expired visas. At least three of the Sept. 11 hijackers remained in the United States after their visas had expired. Others entered the country on student visas but, unknown to the INS, never attended classes.

The budget includes $109.4 million for IT items for the FBI, including digital storage for more than 5 million documents, data management and warehousing, video teleconferencing capabilities, mainframe and data center upgrades, IT support for legal attaches, and improved "collaborative capabilities."

A senior Justice Department official who briefed reporters on the budget on condition that he would not be identified said the agency was "rapidly trying to upgrade" its systems so it could better share information with state and local law enforcement agencies.

The FBI also would receive $48.2 million for information assurance. Citing the Robert Hanssen spying embarrassment, the FBI said it needed a "proactive program" of policies, procedures, technologies, enforcement, administration and training to better safeguard its information.

Other technology items in the budget include:

* $157.5 million for wide-ranging information technology upgrades under an Immigration and Naturalization Service program called ATLAS. The program is intended to fix infrastructure shortfalls, solve connectivity problems and improve information assurance throughout the immigration agency.

* $149.3 million to develop a "Justice Wireless Network" comprised of narrowband radios.

* $108 million for Justice Consolidated Office Network. The department envisions building an office automation infrastructure to link computer systems used by Justice's litigating and management offices with the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Community Relations Service and the U.S. Trustees.

* $90 million to continue work on the Drug Enforcement Administation's Firebird office automation project, which is intended to give DEA agents much greater access to investigative information using standard desktop computers.

* $83.4 million to upgrade various INS computer systems.

* $36.5 million for FBI data management and warehousing.

* $32.3 million for FBI technical programs and operations.

* $21 million to improve the National Infrastructure Protection and Computer Intrusion Program.

* $867,000 for the FBI's DNA analysis program.

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