Congress weaves IT oversight into 2008 spending bill

A 2008 spending bill that Congress passed this week includes increased information technology oversight, including regulating how Justice Department officials handle major IT projects, making the Web site of the State Department more user-friendly and adding restrictions on how agencies make contracting decisions.

The $555 billion budget for funding the federal government through next September would place conditions on how Justice spends money on Sentinel, its $300 million caseload management system, or any other major IT program expected to cost more than $100 million.

Lawmakers have mandated that for Justice to spend more money on such large IT projects, the deputy attorney general and the investment review board must assure lawmakers that the program has sound management and contractor oversight mechanisms in place, The project would also have to be compatible with the department’s enterprise architecture.

Furthermore, the bill would authorize lawmakers to withhold from FBI officials $25 million in funding for Sentinel until 60 days after the House and Senate Appropriations committees and the Government Accountability Office receive a completed, integrated baseline review of the program from FBI. GAO would then issue a report to appropriators within 60 days.

Additionally, the omnibus spending plan states that money can’t be used on future phases of Sentinel until the attorney general certifies that existing phases have been completed.

FBI said it does not expect the changes to adversely affect Sentinel because the bureau was expecting them and had consulted with appropriators.

The bill would give Justice more than $85 million for information-sharing technology, of which almost $20 million would have to be spent on the department’s financial management system. Another $75 million would be set aside to develop and implement a nationwide integrated wireless network and support existing radio systems meant to support federal law enforcement communications.

Outside Justice, lawmakers also aimed to bolster oversight at State, which is still facing criticism for its handling of several high-profile incidents involving contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most prominent case involved Blackwater contractors who are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians while working as diplomatic security guards in Iraq.

Under the legislation, State’s IG office would have to create a place on its home page where individuals can anonymously report on waste, fraud or abuse relating to the department, and State would have to create a link from its home page to the IG office’s Web site within a month of the fiscal 2008 budget taking effect.

Shortly after Democratic lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned Howard Krongard, State’s IG, Nov. 14 about his handling of investigations into incidents of alleged illegal activity by contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan, he announced Dec. 7 he would step down Jan. 15.

Lawmakers added other oversight stipulations to the omnibus bill.

For example, the Commerce Department’s funding includes new contracting protocols for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They stipulate that NOAA cannot contract out any major program unless the undersecretary identifies areas of risk management, shows that the technologies required for the program have been proven in lab tests, and proves that the project complies with department regulations.

The bill also states that major NOAA projects would have to demonstrate a “high likelihood of accomplishing its intended goals.” The undersecretary would also be required to submit a report to Congress proving these points at least 30 days before entering the contract.

About the Authors

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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