House haggles over Defense IT cuts

Members of the House Armed Services Committee were divided May 13 over a subcommittee proposal to cut Defense Department IT spending by $2 billion, including $165 million from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet budget.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), chairman of the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, which recommended the cuts, said his subcommittee "largely funded science and technology programs, but. . .included some fine tuning."

"Information technology. . .consumed much of the subcommittee's efforts this year as we struggled to understand [DOD's] request for almost $28 billion," Saxton said. "We know that there are some expensive new programs getting started, but it was unclear how all the developing programs fit with the newly fielded programs, and what the plan is to ferret out and discontinue obsolete programs."

Some members of the full committee expressed reservations about the large cuts, saying that defense transformation requires investment in technology, and taking IT money from DOD can only have adverse effects.

"We funded [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] fully and increased the chemical and biological budget, but I'm troubled by the $2 billion reduction," said Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) who is the ranking minority member of Saxton's subcommittee. "I question the wisdom of this approach."

Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said the committee should consider that part of the intelligence failure on Sept. 11, 2001, came not only from human intelligence, but the inability to collect and distribute data as necessary. That type of failure, she said, could be prevented with increased spending in IT.

"Part of the failure of 9/11 was in IT," Tauscher said. "We had signals, human intelligence and processed data, but we needed access to it. IT is an important part of our ability to fight an asymmetric war and we need to rethink [the cuts]."

Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said the cut was warranted because DOD has a difficult time describing what systems and applications it has, and officials should have to justify a $28 billion IT budget.

Part of the $2 billion in cuts recommended came in the form of $165 million from the NMCI budget, a subject that rankled several members of the full committee. While they acknowledged the "rocky" and "slow" start of the NMCI project, they argued for the importance of the program in eliminating legacy systems and ultimately saving DOD money.

Susan Davis (D-Calif.) went so far as to recommend cutting funding from the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank program to save NMCI from the budget ax. The recommendation did not sit well with others, who said it was the Abrams tank that allowed for the swift and decisive victory in Iraq with a minimum of casualties.

NMCI is a multiyear effort to solve DOD's problems with "disparate, old, outdated, nonsecure communications systems," Meehan said.

Saxton agreed to further consider both the overall IT cuts and the NMCI cuts, and said he would meet with DOD chief information officer John Stenbit to discuss the matter before a final budget is recommended.


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