House cuts USDA funding

The House passed a bill that would reduce funding for the Agriculture Department's Common Computing Environment (CCE) by nearly $77 million from the amount the Bush administration requested.

The CCE modernization initiative would consolidate the field offices of the USDA's service center agencies by providing a common set of computers and applications so farmers can get assistance at a centralized location.

The bill initially reduced CCE spending by $44.6 million to $133 million. The fiscal 2004 budget request included $177.7 million for the initiative.

On Monday, three amendments further reduced the spending by $8.7 million, $3.5 million and $20 million, bringing the funding for the project to a little more than $100 million, according to a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee's Agriculture Subcommittee.

Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Artur Davis (D-Ala.) and Frank Balance (D-N.C.) sponsored the amendments, the spokesman said.

In a White House statement of Bush administration policy issued July 14, the administration urged the House to allocate more funding for the CCE, as well as several other information technology initiatives.

Reduced funding for the CCE "will slow USDA's progress on implementing a geographical information system that would improve USDA's ability to effectively administer commodity and conservation programs and to track natural disasters, animal and plant disease outbreaks, and bioterrorism events," OMB's statement said.

The administration also asked the House to increase funding for IT systems needed to fix deficiencies in financial management systems. The House bill rejects funding increases needed to meet information security requirements, resolve deficiencies in the Rural Utilities Loan Servicing System, and modernize the Risk Management Agency's systems, according to OMB's statement.

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