Congress split on DOD IT

The House and Senate last week showed how far apart they are in setting the fiscal 2004 information technology budget for the Defense Department, with one calling for one of the steepest cuts in DOD IT spending in recent memory and the other calling for just as steep an increase.

The House Armed Services Committee voted May 13 to cut $2 billion from the already austere $27.9 billion Bush administration request. The resulting $25.9 billion IT budget would represent a more than 6 percent cut from the $27.7 billion fiscal 2003 budget, the first decrease in DOD IT spending in years. DOD IT spending had increased at double- digit rates throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

"Information technology...consumed much of the subcommittee's efforts this year as we struggled to understand [DOD's] request for almost $28 billion," said Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, which recommended the cuts. "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."

A few days before, the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized a more than $2 billion — or 7 percent — increase from the Bush administration's request.

The Senate and House bills will go to the respective floors for a vote and then to a conference to reconcile differences. "We still have a long way to go on this," a Democratic staffer said.

Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said DOD deserved the deep cut because the department has a difficult time describing what systems and applications it has, and officials should justify a $28 billion IT budget.

The House cut $165 million from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, the Navy's initiative to create a single network across more than 500 shore-based sites. Lawmakers acknowledged that NMCI has had a "rocky" and "slow" start but argued that it is important to eliminate legacy systems and ultimately save DOD money.

To save NMCI from the budget ax, Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) recommended cutting funding for the popular M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, but few committee members agreed with her.

Several House Democrats expressed reservations about the large cuts. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said the committee should remember that part of the intelligence failure Sept. 11, 2001, came not only from human intelligence but also from the inability to collect and distribute data as necessary. That type of failure could be prevented with increased spending in IT, she said. "IT is an important part of our ability to fight an asymmetric war, and we need to rethink" the cuts, she said.

By contrast, the Senate made sharp increases in spending, including $63.2 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation — a more than $1.3 billion increase from the administration request.

Saxton agreed to consider 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.

Federal IT analysts said DOD will likely receive slightly more or slightly less than the president's request. Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va., said the Senate authorizing committee tends to increase funding of certain DOD programs, while the House tends to be quicker to cut.

"Probably the outcome will be a little bit of a net gain for DOD IT," Bjorklund said.

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