Modest IT budget growth beats a cut, Senate staffer says

The 1 percent increase in the president’s fiscal 2005 IT budget proposal, up to $59.7 billion from $59.1 billion, doesn’t seem so small considering that the rest of the federal budget may shrink.

Jim Morhard, chief of staff for the Senate Appropriations Committee, estimated that the committee would be $12 billion short in fulfilling the president’s request for $818.4 billion in discretionary funding.

Speaking today at the FSI Outlook 2004 conference in Vienna, Va., Morhard said Congress likely would decide the total amount for the federal budget next week.

“Compared to a lot of other programs, a 1 percent increase in IT funding is pretty good,” he said. “Mandatory spending is squeezing out discretionary spending.”

During the upcoming budget cycle in Congress, Morhard said, homeland security IT requests will be among the priorities. He said two of the Federal Aviation Administration’s modernization projects—the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System and the En Route Authorization Modernization program—could see spending bumps.

One of the biggest challenges facing the committee is a short time frame to complete the 2005 spending bills.

With a third of the Senate running for re-election, finding time for members to vote will be difficult, Morhard said.

“The House Appropriations Committee talked about putting together one large omnibus spending bill, and others have talked about packaging bills together for a vote,” he said.

The packaging of bills such as Defense Department, military construction and Homeland Security Department budgets could cut 12 days from the legislative process.

Morhard said the individual bills would be worked out in subcommittees and voted on by whole committees before being packaged together to go to the full Senate.

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