Funding bill boosts homeland IT coffers

After months of haggling over emergency anti-terrorism funding, the money is finally in the bank. President Bush signed a $28.9 billion supplemental appropriations bill Aug. 2 that will pay for military operations and New York City's recovery from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, among other things.

In doing so, he gave the go-ahead for billions of dollars to flow to homeland security projects, including $6.7 billion for domestic security initiatives and $3.85 billion for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), $550 million below that agency's original request. (See related story, Page 45.)

Also included is $8.7 million to establish secure communications connections among federal agencies.

The bill, known as the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act for Further Recovery From and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States, includes $6.7 million to develop, test and deploy an interoperable computer system for the Immigration and Naturalization Service known as Chimera. But the money will not be released until INS officials submit a plan for capital planning and investment control. The funding includes $1 million for the INS entry/exit visa system — an important tool for keeping track of foreigners entering the United States and making sure they do not overstay their visa deadlines.

The act also earmarks $151 million to train and equip first responders to handle terrorist attacks, including incidents involving chemical or biological weapons.

"A lot of this is remedial spending around security...and then there's also the issue of trying to encourage development of more collaborative architectures," said French Caldwell, vice president of knowledge management for Gartner Inc. "There is more to come."

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said this is the first big infusion of money into the information technology community this year, and "people are looking forward to having it, especially since it looked like there wasn't going to be one."

Nevertheless, it's not a spending spree, according to Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services at Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm. "While there is a war against terrorism going on, the administration is still very prudent in their management," he said. The funding "will fix some things, but it's not the kind of windfall that people are really looking for."

The legislation did not provide all the money that officials were hoping to get as they devise a strategy to protect the country from future attacks. The Bush administration wanted to limit the bill's funding in the face of mounting budget woes, while lawmakers were determined to increase the spending to protect their home districts.

"These investments are an emergency, and they should be made," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.).

The Office of Homeland Security's request for $8 million to conduct pilot projects was rejected, according to Jim Flyzik, the Treasury Department's chief information officer, who is now detailed to the Homeland Security Office.

The money will be shifted from other sources, he said, "and October is right around the corner." That marks the beginning of fiscal 2003 and a new budget.

At a recent hearing, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta complained that TSA needs more money and that Congress had earmarked more than $900 million in the bill for specific uses. In addition, the bill includes a provision that prohibits the department from hiring more than 45,000 employees — 20,000 fewer than TSA needs to carry out its job, according to Mineta.

Transportation officials have said that they will have difficulty meeting the deadlines for hiring a federal workforce of airport baggage screeners (Nov. 19) and for testing all luggage for explosives (Dec. 31).

Mineta has said that TSA officials will reconsider the idea of creating identification cards that would enable "trusted travelers" to speed through airport security checkpoints and minimize passenger delays.


Emergency IT funding

The supplemental appropriations bill provides money to continue critical information technology projects, including:

* $210 million to enhance security at embassies and consulates around the world.

* $201 million for grants to first responders.

* $60.7 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to distribute technology grants.

* $40 million for cybersecurity research.

* $7.2 million for supercomputer backup.

* $4 million to cover the costs of terrorism-related legal proceedings.


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