Bush’s 2007 budget seeks to tap IT’s efficiencies

Requested increases for DHS, Justice signal growing respect for information technology

Information technology is no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of federal spending at the Homeland Security and Justice departments. IT programs get plenty of respect in the Bush administration’s 2007 budget requests for the two departments.

Significant proposed increases for many programs show that administration officials recognize the importance of IT in meeting mission-critical goals, analysts say. But experts disagree about whether the departments will spend money wisely.

The DHS budget request calls for $42.7 billion in fiscal 2007, a nearly 6 percent increase. The IT portion would increase 21.2 percent, from $3.6 billion this year to a proposed $4.4 billion. Overall federal discretionary spending would rise by only 1 percent. The proposed budget would curtail spending on many other programs.

The DHS budget reflects an emphasis on preparedness, information sharing, transportation security, border security and departmental organization, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said. The Justice budget request would improve the management, storage, sharing and security of information. The FBI would sharply increase IT spending to improve its intelligence and information-sharing capabilities.

In both the DHS and Justice requests, the largest budget line items are for consolidated infrastructure programs, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. Such spending is part of a governmentwide trend to improve the IT infrastructure that supports agency programs. Another trend is a change from seeking funding for programs at the subagency level to treating them as agencywide programs, he said.

Borders a priority at DHS
Border security is a major priority in the Bush administration’s budget request, said Jeff Vining, vice president of homeland security and law enforcement at Gartner Research. Rising complaints from disgruntled residents of states along the southern border of the United States helped make that a priority, he said.

The Secure Border Initiative would get $100 million for border technology. The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program would get $399.5 million, up from $341 million in 2006. The majority of the new money — $60 million — would go toward upgrading the program’s fingerprint-capture technology and making it interoperable with the FBI’s fingerprint systems.

The administration realizes that DHS needs centralized IT to consolidate the operations of DHS’ 22 constituent agencies, Vining said. DHS’ chief information officer needs more money and authority to level the playing field between the departmental CIO and various agency CIOs within DHS. The central CIO’s office would get $324 million, up from $294 million in fiscal 2006.

The budget supports a new Preparedness Directorate at DHS, but some emergency response experts are dissatisfied with proposed funding for preparedness. Barry Scanlon, a partner at James Lee Witt Associates, an emergency management consulting firm, said he was disappointed in cuts to some state and local preparedness grants.

Because of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the predicted severity of the 2006 hurricane season, he said, “preparedness spending should go up, not down.”

Eyes on FBI’s Sentinel
The Bush administration has proposed spending on 231 programs at Justice, but none will likely spark more debate than the $100 million proposed for Sentinel, the FBI’s new investigative and administrative case management system. In fiscal 2006, the program received $97 million in funding reassigned from other programs.

Effective IT-based case management is crucial for the FBI because managing, storing and tracking cases are the bureau’s lifeblood, Suss said. The bureau needs Sentinel to replace the paper-based system it still uses, he said.

The FBI has not fully detailed Sentinel’s cost and capabilities, even though the program has already received more than $200 million since fiscal 2005. That amount is more than the scrapped $170 million Virtual Case File system that it will replace, said Alan Webber, senior analyst for government at Forrester Research.

The Bush administration and the Office of Management and Budget are not pressuring DHS and Justice to share information or spend wisely, Webber said. Administration officials promised the departments money regardless of the agencies’ performance, he said.

“The war on terror is going on,” Webber said, “but these agencies won’t be able to make a significant impact until they’re held accountable for their investments, especially on the IT side.” Suss disagreed, saying that the Bush administration is not looking to spend frivolously when it faces record-breaking deficits in an election year.

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