Tech issues get new lease on life

With Republicans in control of Congress, President Bush called on lawmakers to pass legislation to create the proposed Homeland Security Department before the end of the year.

"The single most important item of unfinished business on Capitol Hill is creating a unified body to protect the American people," Bush said at a White House news conference Nov. 7.

It is "imperative" that Congress put a bill on his desk by the end of the lame-duck session that begins Nov. 12 creating a Cabinet-level department bringing together an array of homeland defense functions, the president said.

Senate Democrats had been holding up the legislation in a dispute over whether to exempt federal employees working in the proposed department from civil service and other labor protections. But now with Republican control, the logjam is expected to be broken.

"Moving forward with this bill will definitely impact government IT positively, since the House-passed bill recognizes the critical role technology must play in protecting our homeland," said David Marin, spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement subcommittee.

Marin said GOP control over both chambers "offers an opportunity to move some bills that have been stalled in the Senate." Among them is Davis's Digital Tech Corps legislation that passed the House in April but hasn't made it through the Senate. The measure would allow mid-level IT managers in federal agencies and private companies to swap jobs for at least six months and as long as two years.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans say they always have been working together on technology issues and expect the partnership to continue, according to David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will lose the job to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

"Sen. Leahy and Sen. Hatch have been known for working especially closely together on technology issues and that partnership likely would continue," Carle said.

And a spokeswoman for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said, "We are hoping for some faster action on some IT issues. Hopefully, things will start to move."

The first order of business when Congress returns Nov. 12 for a lame-duck session is continuing funding for government operations. To date, Congress has been unable to pass appropriations bills for fiscal 2003 that are chock full of money for IT projects. It is likely that lawmakers will pass a short-term bill to keep government running at its current levels and deal with the problem when the 108th Congress is sworn into office in January.

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