Defense tech debated

Lawmakers think troops could better communicate and access intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan if they consolidated them.

Congress will scrutinize the Defense Department's $30.1 billion budget request for military information technology spending for fiscal 2006 by questioning redundancy in the services' warfighting IT systems.

DOD IT officials requested $7.4 billion for command, control, communications and computer systems next year — a $1 billion increase from what they received last year. Lawmakers think troops could better communicate and access intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan if they consolidated them.

"The subcommittee is interested to learn why DOD has so many different tactical information technology systems performing similar, if not, the same functionality," said Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, during a March 3 hearing.

Linton Wells, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration and chief information officer, said while that appears so DOD IT officials continue to make progress. Earlier this week, he said he approved an acquisition strategy for the Air Force's new Expeditionary Support System that by 2012 eliminates 500 existing ones.

"This is a real success story," Wells said.

In the near term, Wells said military IT officials took development funding for the services' versions of the existing Global Command and Control System and put it toward the new departmentwide Joint Command and Control System. He said that decision shows their dedication to consolidating warfighting IT systems.

But Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), whose 25-year tenure in the Marine Corps included stints as an aide to two presidents, wants it to move faster. "Why can't we get more standardization? Why does it take so long?" he asked.

Earlier this week, DOD officials delivered to lawmakers the $30.1 billion budget proposal detailing military IT spending for fiscal 2006. The IT budget document typically comes four weeks after President Bush submits the department's annual budget request, which this year totaled $419.3 billion.

Pentagon IT officials requested $10.7 billion for defense agencies, $7.1 billion for the Air Force, $6.2 billion for the Navy and $6.1 billion for the Army. The $30.1 billion for 2006 represents a $2.9 billion increase from the $27.2 billion requested in 2005, and a $1.4 billion increase from the $28.7 billion received last year.

A Pentagon CIO official familiar with the budget proposal said the 4.9 percent increase resulted from military officials wanting to spend more on warfighting IT systems. "What we see initially looks like a lot of growth in tactical and command and control systems," the official said.

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