DOD budget hits floor

The House and Senate Armed Services committees have completed their review of the Defense Department’s fiscal 2006 budget request authorizing $441.6 billion -- $22.3 billion more than the $419.3 billion DOD submitted in February.

The House committee completed its markup May 19, six days after its Senate counterpart finished. The House and Senate plan to vote on their respective bills next week.

Lawmakers must agree on funding for DOD's information technology budget and the Army's Future Combat System (FCS) program when they meet in conference this summer. House lawmakers cut the department's $30.1 billion IT request by about $250 million and the service's $3.4 billion FCS request by about $400 million.

This marks the third straight year that lawmakers proposed cuts to the Pentagon's IT budget. For fiscal 2005, they slashed it by about $500 million after House committee members voted to reduce it by $726 million and senators voted to cut $200 million. For fiscal 2004, the military faced IT budget cuts of almost $2 billion, but lawmakers largely rescinded them after conferring on the bill.

The House bill looked favorably on DOD's science and technology program increasing its budget by $892 million to $11.4 billion but voiced concerns about proposed future cuts. It also called attention to the military's medical evacuation helicopters, adding $4 million to a program to equip them with a wireless intercom system to allow medical personnel to communicate with flight crews while treating injured warfighters.

The legislation continued scrutiny of FCS and the military's IT and space programs. It required the comptroller general to submit to Congress an annual review of the Army’s $125 billion program to equip 15 brigades with 18 light, rapid-deployable, manned and unmanned ground and air systems including analysis of its performance, cost and schedule goals. It also cut $400 million from DOD’s $835.8 million request for the Transformational Satellite Communications (TCS) program because of serious concerns about the space acquisition process."

The bill also singled out the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS): "Given recent developments that include a stop-work order and the show cause letter to the contractor, the committee believes DOD should re-evaluate requirements for immediate, interim and long-term tactical radio communications especially JTRS and its promised capabilities.

The Senate bill emphasizes improved protection against roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation calls for $500 million to create a Joint Improvised Explosive Device Task Force to speed development of technologies and tactics to counter the roadside bomb threats.

As with the House proposal, the Senate measure reflects criticism of TCS and JTRS. The Senate would cut $200 million from the program to deploy laser communications in space to speed data sharing and remove $308.3 million from the initiative to develop programmable radios that transmit across the spectrum.

To prevent a separate budget process for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal 2006, lawmakers also authorized an emergency supplemental bill, with House members recommending $49.1 billion and senators approving $50 billion.

Battlefield communications systems, radios and roadside bomb jammers continued to get the support they received in the 2005 emergency supplemental bill signed into law earlier this month. The House committee approved $349.3 million for the Army’s Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system, $183 million more than requested; $172.5 million for the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, $117 million more than proposed; and $35 million for jammers, $35 million than first submitted.

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