This means war

President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget hopes to raise funds for a new kind of warfare — one that relies on information technology to protect Americans.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the president is seeking to pump $52 billion into information technology — a 15.6 percent increase over fiscal 2002 — to protect Americans from terrorism threats at home."The role information technology will play is a considerable one," said Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, at a Feb. 4 briefing.

By all indications, Congress is ready to go along with the IT budget hike, one of the largest in recent memory. "The next war will not be fought with guns, but with computers in offices. And we've got to do a lot more," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who sponsored an $878 million research bill that passed the House overwhelmingly Feb. 7.

Some in Congress, such as Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), predict agencies could see more than the amount Bush has requested. "I predict the budget will not encounter any problems in Congress," said Moran, whose Northern Virginia congressional district is home to many IT firms. "I happen to feel, and a lot of my colleagues feel, that information technology is an area that needs substantial development."

Most federal IT experts say the president's request for an increase in IT spending is simply a down payment. Gartner Inc. estimates that the government's combined civilian, defense and classified IT spending could increase 10 percent to 15 percent a year during the next five years.

But to pay for it, lawmakers will return to deficits and squeeze money from other domestic programs such as Social Security, environmental protection and highway improvements. At every step of the budget process, "there are going to have to be choices," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "It is clear you are not going to be able to do this in one round."

However, other IT players are skeptical. Bush's spending plan may encounter some election-year difficulty as it moves through Congress, said John Spotila, former chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget and now president of GTSI Corp. "Money is going to be scarce," and members of Congress may be inclined to favor programs that bring spending to their districts.

Perhaps anticipating that, the president's budget message included a caution to Congress against earmarking money for pet projects.

Bush's own bean counters warn they will keep a close watch on any attempts by members of Congress to bill lesser priorities as "homeland security projects" just to get the money.

"The president respects the role of Congress as the keeper of the purse...but if there are attempts to raid defense for lesser priorities, or to raid homeland security for lesser priorities, then we'll resist that," said Mitchell Daniels Jr., OMB director.

Redefining the Budget Culture

As members of Congress roll up their sleeves to begin work on the fiscal 2003 budget, the administration has added a new and demanding performance criterion — accountability. In other words, if agencies want money, they must show that it will be well spent.

"As long as agencies can effectively demonstrate to Congress that they are working to facilitate the administration's management goals and can demonstrate that sufficient planning has gone into their IT requests, the reception on the Hill will be basically warm," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

The challenge is a big one. The focus on accountability will redefine the budget process. For every dollar that goes to homeland security, an agency must show that it has improved its security, has developed e-government services and is saving taxpayers' money.

"Yes, agencies will get funding for homeland security tech projects because the need is simply too great," Davis said. "But what we need to know now is: Are agencies ready to make the necessary changes in culture and training to work more effectively together?"

Scott Hastings, associate commissioner for information resource management at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, an agency on the front lines of protecting the nation from terrorism, said money is urgently needed for IT, but every agency will have to make its business case.

"We've got to be driven by high-level interagency business objectives," Hastings said. "The agencies are working [overtime] put together a business plan."

In some ways, the Bush budget makes it easy for agencies by calling for cross-agency projects to protect Americans. Gone, for the most part, are the agency-by-agency projects, legacy applications and stovepiped systems that have served as obstacles to collaboration. In its place are proposals that will make it easier and more efficient to develop homeland security initiatives.

Information Sharing

On Sept. 11, rescue workers from different jurisdictions found that their radios were not compatible, wireless phone service was overloaded and disrupted, and the emergency radio network established during the Cold War to alert people to danger was never activated.

In the days after the attacks, law enforcement agencies discovered that various government databases held critical information on some of the men who had hijacked the four passenger jets used in the attacks. But the information wasn't shared among law enforcement agencies, and no one was told that one of the hijackers had been on a terrorist watch list.

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 president's budget sets in motion a plan to more effectively share information among federal, state and local authorities — and it asks for money to pay for it. Bush earmarked $202 million for a national information network that would alert doctors and rescue workers quickly in an emergency and $60 million for a wireless priority access program, among many other ideas.

Bush requested $20 million for a proposed Information Integration Office at the Commerce Department, which would lead information-sharing efforts. The office would develop an "interagency information architecture" that agencies would follow to make sure existing and new information systems across government could work together. New systems for information sharing are also proposed, including $7 million for a secure videoconferencing system that the Federal Emergency Management Agency could use to communicate with emergency workers at the state level.

The initiatives outlined in the budget show how the Office of Homeland Security intends to "take all the technology assets that we have in government and elsewhere and use them in such a way, fuse the information in such a way, share the information in such a way that we can hopefully prevent future terrorist attacks," Ridge said.

Border Control

The 7,500 miles of borders shared with Mexico and Canada present an easy way for terrorists to enter the United States, and with no way to keep track of those who legally enter the country, the danger escalates, the Bush administration said. Three of the Sept. 11 hijackers had overstayed their visitor's visas. Countless other foreigners have entered the United States on student or visitor visas and simply disappeared.

To try to root out those who overstay their visas, the Bush budget calls for $380 million for an entry/exit visa system for INS to keep better track of short-term foreign visitors.

The administration wants tighter control of the borders by the U.S. Customs Service and has requested $313 million in fiscal 2003 to speed up introduction of a modernized, Web-based system to keep track of imports.

The administration also has earmarked $891 million for IT projects at the State Department, including passport modernization ($23 million), e-mail operations ($14.6 million) and classified connectivity ($53 million) — the State platform that includes e-mail and other classified high-tech tools.

"The use of advanced technology to track the movement of cargo and the entry and exit of individuals is essential to the task of managing the movement of hundreds of millions of individuals, conveyances and vehicles," the budget document states.

It won't be a moment too soon, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "We want to make sure that we are at the forefront of technology in order to do our job better," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Feb. 5.

Defense Initiatives

To support the central player in any effort to fight terrorism at home or abroad, the Bush administration wants $379.3 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2003 — about a 13 percent increase from fiscal 2002. The money would be used to buy more unmanned vehicles and intelligent communications systems and would also support research and development into advanced IT.

A senior DOD official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration's proposal includes $27 billion for the war on terrorism. The money would primarily be used for force protection, counterterrorism and intelligence gathering.

Bush also asked for more money to fight bioterrorism, upgrade medical networks, develop new vaccines and keep track of medical supplies using high-tech tools. More than $400 million would be allocated to DOD to develop better detection, identification, collection and monitoring technology to respond to bioterrorism attacks.

Christopher J. Dorobek, Diane Frank and William Matthews contributed to this article.


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