Feds must work for 2003 funds

Congress this month passed a huge fiscal 2003 budget bill that tightens spending on information technology and begins to make federal IT managers more accountable for spending.

The legislation attaches strings to many projects. It requires that agencies provide the appropriations committees with a business case analysis, for example, and to regularly report on milestones.

Although Congress has often used appropriations bills to compel agencies in certain directions, the House and Senate have stepped up the practice with the fiscal 2003 budget.

It's not unusual for Congress to attach requirements to funding because the biggest "power of a legislative body is the power of the purse," according to Alan Balutis, president and chief operating officer of Veridyne Inc. and a former deputy chief information officer at the Commerce Department. "One result of the recent lack of comity between the executive branch and the Congress is that...the appropriations bills or report language has become detailed and elaborate."

Congress agreed, for example, to fund the Transportation Security Administration's plan to issue high-tech employee identification cards that would control access to facilities and networks — but with a catch.

"While approving funds for this program and deleting restrictive bill language proposed by the House, the conferees direct TSA not to obligate funds for the [program's] prototype phase" until the House and Senate appropriations committees receive the results of the technical evaluation phase and approve continuing the program, according to the conference report.

Congress even puts the Office of Management and Budget on notice. While starting out with different language, both the House and Senate want to limit OMB's ability to set procurement goals.

The conference report discourages using "arbitrary" goals for outsourcing government jobs, saying guidelines must be based on "considered research and sound analysis." And if goals are set, OMB must report to the House Appropriations Committee within 30 days, detailing its research.

Most requirements aim to improve IT management, quite similar to controls OMB has applied during the budget process that focus on defining business cases for projects and developing them within an enterprise architecture.

Among the projects requiring oversight are the Immigration and Naturalization Service's entry/exit program, FBI modernization, the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment modernization program and the Coast Guard's Deepwater and Maritime 911 projects.

The Bush administration "has been pushing for the proper documentation of a business case and the adoption of enterprise architecture. Those words are now showing up in the legislation," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va.

"It's a fairly constrained budget," said Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "It's not revolutionary, but money is tight in most programs because so much of the overall increase is channeled [into] defense and homeland security measures."

Unlike spending for other kinds of projects, "the fallout from failing to invest adequately in IT development and innovation rarely comes back to hit the decision-makers who decided to allocate inadequate resources to this priority," Reischauer said.

In a battle that twisted Congress into knots for most of last year, the Bush administration's e-government fund was a clear loser. Although President Bush had requested $45 million for fiscal 2003, Congress provided only $5 million to keep cross-agency projects going.

Mark Forman, associate director of IT and e-government at OMB, said he's taking his direction for e-government from Congress. "The message is clear that there is redundancy, and they don't want the fund to be another redundant effort," he said. "Could we have moved faster if we got the full $45 million? Yes. Does it inhibit us from moving at all? No.... All the comments from Congress say, 'Move, but leverage existing projects.' "

David Marin, spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said Davis would continue to fight for more e-government money. The administration is requesting $45 million for fiscal 2004. "If we are to achieve the goal of a 21st century government that is well-run, results-oriented and citizen-centered, we need more funds," Marin said.

Diane Frank, Michael Hardy, Megan Lisagor and Sara Michael contributed to this report.

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Funding with strings attached

Agency: Coast Guard

Project: Integrated Deepwater System (to upgrade and integrate vessels and their technology systems).

Fiscal 2003 funding: $478 million

Strings: No funds can be obligated or expended for Deepwater until the Transportation Department and the Office of Management and Budget jointly certify that the Coast Guard's capital investment plan and OMB's budgetary projections show enough funding to carry Deepwater through fiscal 2008 while enabling full deployment of the National Distress and Response System Modernization Project by 2006.

Agency: Customs Service

Project: Automated Commercial Environment (to deploy a new automated trade-monitoring system).

Fiscal 2003 funding: $313 million

Strings: Customs officials must file quarterly status reports and submit requests for releasing funds, including cost/benefit analyses, 30 days before they anticipate spending the money.

Agency: FBI

Project: Trilogy (to modernize the bureau's technology infrastructure).

Fiscal 2003 funding: $237 million ($132 million more than requested)

Strings: The FBI must continue submitting quarterly reports on Trilogy's status and provide a plan by March 30 for reviewing all of the bureau's 40-plus databases, with the goal of removing applications "that have outlived their usefulness."

Agency: Immigration and Naturalization Service

Project: Entry/exit system (to track foreign visitors to the United States).

2003 funding: $362 million

Strings: The secretary of Homeland Security must submit a comprehensive plan for the system and related technology upgrades.

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