Update: Senate to consider bill with billions for IT
The Senate will consider legislation as early as later today that would provide money for most of the federal government to keep running at fiscal 2008 spending levels until next March 6. The bill also includes fiscal 2009 budgets for the Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs departments.
The House quickly passed the legislation on Sept. 24 as lawmakers prepared to recess as early as Sept. 26 and the end of the government’s fiscal year funding runs out Oct. 1.
Under the fiscal 2009 budgets in the legislation, the VA would get $47.6 billion in discretionary funding, DOD would get $487.7 billion in discretionary money and $40 billion would go to DHS for discretionary spending.
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee published an explanation of the measure with details on the funding of information technology projects at DHS, DOD and VA for fiscal 2009.
The spending for DHS IT projects includes $272 million for the office of the chief information officer, including $47.7 million for the Homeland Security Data Network, $92.6 million for security activities and $44.9 million for information technology activities, which is $2.5 million more than the administration requested. The additional IT funding would be used for the CIO’s highest priority enterprise architecture projects,
The CIO would also be directed to ensure all staff members who perform EA oversight are federal employees.
In addition, the measure would give DHS $775 million for border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology. However, $400 million of that money would not be available until lawmakers have approved an expenditure plan that complies with conditions in the bill, and which has been reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.
Also, DHS would get $313.5 million for the National Cyber Security Division, including $254.9 million for that department's share of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. However, another provision would not allow half of that money to be spent until some congressional committees approve a spending plan for the program.
DHS also would get $82.2 million for the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight program to take control of screening airline passengers against terrorism-related watch lists, but that money depends on a certification from GAO.
DHS would also get about $1 billion for Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System Program. Some $350 million would be unavailable until lawmakers approve a plan for the expenditures.
Other DHS funding includes $300 million for the United States Visitor Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, $35 million for modernization of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Alert System, including digital capability, $3.1 billion for state and local programs. That includes $950 million for the Homeland Security Grant Program and $838 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative grants to be administered by FEMA. The $3.1 billion total is about a billion more than the administration requested.
Meanwhile, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs fiscal 2009 budget measure totals $72.9 billion in discretionary funding, $3.5 billion above the president’s request. Of that increase, $2.8 billion would go for health care and research. VA would be able to expand its initiatives in telemedicine and telemedicine with $250 million for a new rural health initiative.
The bill would add $94 million above the president’s request for VA to hire 1,100 more claims processors to reduce the amount of time that veterans have to wait for their disability claims to be processed.
The bill would also provide $2.5 billion for VA information technology and directs the department to submit an IT expenditure plan to Congress 30 days after enactment and an IT expenditure report monthly. The total is $47.3 million more than the administration’s request, and it includes $5 million for IT related to additional claims processors, $2 million for IT related to the eye injury registry and $35 million for emerging medical center needs.
In the explanatory statement, lawmakers expressed concern over the accelerated schedule to develop a modernized automated system for veterans to apply for educational benefits, for which Congress previously appropriated $20 million for IT. The VA expects its Educational Expert System to be operational by August.
The VA is “relying exclusively on the success of this automation to ensure a timely, satisfactory implementation of this program,” the statement said. The House wants to make sure that veterans can still apply using a non-electronic method and directed the VA to report on its plans to develop and deploy the system and its contingency plans if delays preclude an August deployment.
The measure would establish a funding floor of $48 million for the VA’s Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise, or FLITE, program, the modernized financial and accounting system, according to the explanatory statement. This is $5.3 million more than the administration requested.
In the fiscal 2009 budget for DOD, the Army’s Future Combat Systems program would get a boost despite past struggles and cost growths the program struggled with in recent years. Lawmakers said the FCS program remains the Army’s top priority modernization program, and support remains strong for the Army’s goal to create a more modem force.
The Army’s decision to field new systems to the Infantry Brigade Combat Teams fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan led to the continued support. Originally Heavy Brigade Combat Teams were supposed to be the first groups to get FCS capabilities.
“Funding in the bill supports the Army’s plan to field proven technologies that provide immediate enhanced capabilities to the warfighter and fully supports the Army's requested program adjustments,” the bill says.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, for example, would get an $23 million more than the administration requested for fiscal 2009. And unattended ground sensors would get a $4.1 million increase compared to the budget request.
The measure would also provide a $750 million more than requested on spending for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
The House bill also would fund the transition of administrations by giving the Executive Office of the President’s transition office $8 million. The measure also would give the General Services Administration $8.5 million in transition money.
Before the House acted, officials warned that the possibility of a continuing resolution funding the government for a prolonged period could hinder the transition to a new administration.
With no spending bills becoming law so far for fiscal 2009, “some agencies would have to move some money around,” said Clay Johnson, deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget.Doug Beizer and Mary Mosquera also contributed to this article.
Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.