House passes DOD authorization act

The bill would give DOD one of the largest increases in spending in three decades, including funds for major IT projects

The House of Representatives last week approved a bill that would give the Defense Department one of the largest increases in spending in three decades, including funds for major information technology projects.

The House May 9 passed the fiscal 2003 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4546) on a vote of 359-58, authorizing $383 billion in national security spending for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

To a great extent, the bill matches the Bush administration's DOD budget request, said Ray Bjorklund, a vice president at market research firm Federal Sources Inc. It also largely supports the administration's effort to transform the military and homeland security.

For example, the bill recommends $714 million to the Army for research and development on its Future Combat System, matching the administration's request, and another $122 million to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the project.

The House Armed Services Committee, in its summary of the bill, praised Army and DARPA officials' efforts "to incorporate high-risk, high-gain technologies into a family of future combat systems."

The Army considers the Future Combat System a cornerstone of its transformation to a lighter, more lethal force. In March, the Army selected Boeing Co.'s Space and Communications group and Science Applications International Corp. as the lead systems integrators for the project.

"This bipartisan bill recognizes that we are a nation at war and provides the manpower, the equipment and the technology that the United States military needs to successfully conduct the war against terrorism," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.).

The Senate has nearly completed work on its version of the authorization bill, officials said, and then the House and Senate will work out the differences between the two bills.

John Pike, a former defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists and now director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit organization, said the impact of this budget on homeland security would not become clear until the role of DOD's newly formed Northern Command, which would manage homeland security efforts, is more defined and until a decision is made about giving Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, a position in President Bush's Cabinet.

"It's too soon to say in the sense that [the Northern Command] remains a view graph, and it's still completely unclear if Gov. Ridge will wind up being a Cabinet secretary," Pike said. "Those continue to be the wild cards, and everything else really depends on them."

Jack Spencer, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., said the Bush administration "is clearly putting a lot of faith in technology and rightfully so."

IT is the crux of DOD's transformation and will enable it to conduct warfare in new ways by "greatly reducing the size of the force and greatly increasing its mobility," he said.

NEXT STORY: DOD aims to seed workforce

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