Homeland IT budget on rise

President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget request for the Homeland Security Department includes $800 million in new money for information technology, including $206 million in a fund for new IT projects.

Details of the IT budget for the new department began emerging during the past two days as administration officials conducted briefings on the president's fiscal 2004 budget request.

Among the highlights: a $3.8 billion IT budget, including the $206 million in a centralized fund for new projects, acording to Mark Forman, OMB's associate director of IT and e-government, during a briefing Feb. 4 for industry representatives.

At a briefing Feb. 3, Tom Ridge, the department's secretary, said that the spending request for the department includes money from the 22 agencies that will make up the department as well as new funds.

"In just a week since this department was created, we have begun to lay the foundation from which we can mobilize the nation in the mission to protect the homeland," Ridge said. "Everything we have done is an effort to organize to work more efficiently and more effectively as a department."

The total budget request is $36.2 billion for the agency, an increase of 7.4 percent from the fiscal 2003 request, which has yet to be approved by Congress. Spending on homeland security and other items in President Bush's budget is likely to face a long and difficult battle on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) was quick to criticize the entire fiscal 2004 budget plan, including the homeland security portion.

"President Bush says we need to invest in improving our domestic defenses without delay. But according to independent experts, the Bush administration's investments in critical homeland security priorities are insufficient," Lieberman said. "Better security won't come from wishful thinking or tough talk. It demands a genuine commitment from Washington to make our country safer."

Nevertheless, Bush's budget request for the new department includes several sizable requested increases. Among them is $771 million earmarked for a science and technology unit, a 46 percent increase from the $529 million requested in 2003. The unit will make it easier for the department to assess and purchase computers and software and set up a national communications network.

The spending plan also includes $307 million for the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment — an increase from $300 million in fiscal 2003. The database will be built in the next five years. In the meantime, the Homeland Security Department is using Customs' aging Automated Commercial System to process passenger and cargo manifests, according to Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner.

And the budget request includes $50 million to develop a trucker identification card using biometrics to identify drivers who routinely cross the U.S. border, according to James Loy, undersecretary of transportation for security.

"It is always about people, cargo and vehicles," Loy said. "The idea is to push the borders out. The notion is that if you let things get too close, it's too late."

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