Analysts see good, bad of DHS, DOJ budgets

The Bush administration’s budget requests for the Homeland Security and Justice departments contain a mix of good and bad proposals for improving how the departments use information technology, analysts say.

The DHS budget request calls for $42.7 billion in fiscal 2007, a nearly 6 percent increase from fiscal 2006. The IT portion of the department’s budget would increase 21.2 percent, from $3.6 billion this year to a proposed $4.4 billion in fiscal 2007. The budget reflects an emphasis on preparedness, information sharing, transportation security, border security and departmental organization.

The Justice budget request would fund improvements in the management, storage, sharing and security of information. The FBI would sharply increase IT spending to improve its intelligence and information-sharing capabilities.

The DHS budget request supports the recommendations that department Secretary Michael Chertoff made in his Second Stage Review last July, said Jennifer Kerber, director of homeland security at the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). Kerber said that is a good sign that the government recognizes the importance of IT enhancements for homeland security.

The budget request provides funds to create an Office of Screening Coordination and Operations within DHS. ITAA supports the office as a way to quickly connect the department’s various screening programs, Kerber said.

The federal government would spend a lot of money to address fundamental problems that have lingered for years, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.

The Integrated Wireless Network will improve secure wireless communication, Suss said. The Homeland Security Information Network will enhance information sharing with state and local first responders.

The $1 million the FBI would spend on service-oriented architecture would be a “harbinger of things to come,” Suss said. An important governmentwide tool, SOA would make department networks more powerful to ensure that users of large government IT systems have the responsiveness and performance they need.

Not all the analysts’ observations were positive. The DHS budget request would cut the Emergency Management Performance Grant program by $13 million to $170 million for fiscal 2007.

EMPG is the “backbone for preparing for and responding to disasters at the state and local level,” said Barry Scanlon, a partner at James Lee Witt Associates, an emergency management consulting firm.

“We’re definitely disappointed,” Scanlon said. Suss agreed, saying the federal government must spend at the state and local levels, not just the national level, to get the results it wants.

A downside of the president’s proposal is the absence of funding for states to issue more secure driver’s licenses under the Real ID Act of 2005, Kerber said. States will need federal help in 2007 to meet the law’s May 2008 deadline, she said.

Alan Webber, senior analyst for government at Forrester Research, said he expects to see other agencies cut back their IT budgets this summer for the money to go to DHS and DOJ. That would take money away from many programs that are not war-related but are critical for working Americans, he said.

It would also stop or slow other governmentwide programs, such as implementing Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which requires secure credentials for accessing federal facilities and databases.

Webber faulted Justice for requesting another $100 million for its Sentinel case management system, which would increase the price tag for the yet-to-be completed project to more than $300 million. That would exceed the $170 million for the failed Virtual Case File system Sentinel would replace.

“Where’s even the slap on the wrist?” Webber asked. “DOJ is pretty much being given free rein. Who cares if they screwed up?”

The administration should pressure Justice and DHS to spend their IT money wisely and not hand them blank checks just because the departments are protecting the country, he said.

“Now’s not the time to give them slack,” Webber said. “Now is the time to be disciplined.”

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