Proposed U.S. federal IT budget reflects impact of deficit

The White House Monday released the details of its proposed fiscal 2005 U.S. IT budget, which is showing signs of increased strain amid a ballooning national deficit, the continued war on terrorism and the urgent demands of homeland security.

The George W. Bush administration requested US$59.8 billion for its government-wide IT budget in FY 2005 — a trivial increase from the current US$59.1 billion IT budget.

The paltry increase apparently stems from the administration’s desire to rein in spending and deliver on its promise to cut the national deficit in half during the next five years. That, in turn, has forced the White House to take a close look at all federal IT programs to ensure that they are based on a sound business case and support the President’s Management Agenda, which covers areas such as human capital management, financial management and support for e-government initiatives.

According to the budget, “agencies must remediate the shortfalls identified in their business cases or the administration will not support the expenditures until agencies have demonstrated their ability to address the weaknesses.”

At a news conference Monday, Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said that except for national defense and the war on terrorism, government spending has been brought under control. However, he cautioned that “there are a lot of outstanding programs that still waste money” through poor management. Every program’s performance will be studied carefully, he said.

When asked about specific programs that might be targeted for discretionary spending cuts, Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said, “They’re all on the table.”

Homeland security remains a growth area in this year’s budget. While civilian agency IT spending increased by a mere one per cent and defense IT spending rose by two per cent compared to this year, the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed IT budget grew by more than eight per cent.

“The statement of this budget is clear — protecting the homeland continues to be a critical priority for this administration,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.

IT security vulnerability research, sponsored by the Infrastructure Assurance and Infrastructure Protection directorate at the DHS, would get US$16 million in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Other IAIP directorate programs received significant funding increases, including incident handling and response, red-teaming activities to uncover vulnerabilities in both physical and cyber infrastructures and support for a distributed network of homeland security operations centers.

Customs and border protection, as well as initiatives aimed at port, transportation and immigration security, remain driving forces behind the DHS IT budget increase.

According to Ridge, who spoke to reporters about the budget request, the administration is requesting US$340 million to continue expansion of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program beyond the 115 airports and 14 seaports where it is now in use. US-VISIT relies on a variety of IT systems to screen and check foreign visitors to the U.S. against terrorist watch lists.

The DHS budget also continues the US$101 million baseline funding requirement for the Container Security Initiative (CSI), which aims to deploy cutting-edge IT systems to ensure cargo containers aboard ships cannot be used as weapons by terrorists to hide chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The budget also adds US$25 million for the final phase of the CSI program and for deployment of CSI technologies at high-risk ports.

Of the US$890 million added to the budget of the Transportation Security Administration, nearly 15 per cent, or US$131 million, has been earmarked for a DHS-wide strategy governing access control, real-time validation of identity and determination of access privileges at secure TSA sites.

Also important to the DHS is a significant increase in money for the financial management goals of the massive new agency. The president’s FY 2005 budget proposal nearly doubles funding for the DHS’s E-Merge program to US$81 million. The goal of E-Merge is to integrate and streamline DHS’s financial and acquisition management systems across its 22 federal departments.

“When you are preparing a budget, nothing helps more than getting a raise,” said Ridge. Across the entire government, including the proposed budget increase at DHS, homeland security efforts would get a 10 per cent increase in funding.

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