House budget threatens DOT CIO

The House passed a bill last week that would eliminate funding for the Transportation Department’s chief information officer, but lawmakers say Office of the Secretary funding can be shuffled to cover the CIO's expenses.

The altered language in the Departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act would redirect money from the CIO's office and several other DOT offices to Amtrak.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) introduced the amendment, approved by a voice vote, to increase Amtrak’s original $550 million budget to $1.2 billion by taking money from DOT offices.

All CIO office salaries and expenses, totaling $11.9 million, would go to Amtrak. Twenty percent of the Office of the Secretary’s $84.9 million budget would also be cut.

Other programs would suffer, too. DOT's research and development budget would be reduced from $40.6 million to $9 million. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration would lose $59 million -- or 39 percent -- in money earmarked to help transition flight service station services from FAA staff to Lockheed Martin employees.

Lockheed Martin was recently awarded a $1.9 billion competitive sourcing contract to run the FAA’s flight service station services, which provide preflight weather briefings, flight planning services, in-flight radio communications and search and rescue services, mostly to corporate and commercial pilots who do not fly for major airlines.

LaTourette spokesman Matt Wallen said the amendment retains most of the Office of the Secretary’s appropriations because the secretary is authorized to shift some funds to or from any office, including the CIO’s.

“We’re not trying to eliminate anything,” Wallen said. “We were just trying to, if you will, do some tightening of the belt to shift some money over to the Amtrak folks.”

But it is not a done deal. The budget also states that no transfer can increase or decrease an office’s total appropriation by more than 5 percent, unless approved by the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

DOT officials declined to comment on the House bill.

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