Budget cuts threaten IT

'This provision would deny [us] an important tool in the war on terrorism,' President Bush said of a Senate plan to do away with the TIA funds next year.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Federal CIOs are sweating'and not just because of Washington's summer humidity. Many agencies' systems chiefs are finding themselves on the defensive before a Congress that in recent weeks has shown a willingness to pare fiscal 2004 IT budget requests.

The cuts have been sizable enough to draw condemnations from the White House.

Among the programs on the chopping block are the Defense Department's controversial Terrorism Information Awareness datamining project and the Agriculture Department's Common Computing Environment modernization effort.

Lawmakers also are reviewing a Homeland Security Department request for the release of $375 million in funding for the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology system, but release of the funds will depend on the results of a General Accounting Office review of the program.

The Senate passed, by a 95-0 vote, a $369 billion Defense spending bill this month. It killed funding for TIA, a computerized terrorist tracking system.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, proposed the amendment to strip TIA funding from the bill.

Congress approved an initial $10 million for TIA this year. The Bush administration had asked for another $20 million in its 2004 proposal.

TIA had been known as Total Information Awareness, but the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency changed the name in May after it received criticism from Congress and the media. Through the project, DARPA is developing a system to collect and correlate information in disparate databases, ranging from financial to health information, to help the government track down potential terrorists.

In a statement, President Bush said he opposed cutting TIA funding, saying, 'This provision would deny [us] an important tool in the war on terrorism.'

A provision in the House appropriations bill would keep funding in place for TIA although it would impose strict limits on the use of the technology on private citizens and called for congressional oversight.

Budget cuts by both houses of Congress also threaten the rollout of Agriculture's CCE project.
The House approved an appropriations bill this month that would slash almost $77 million from the $178 million Bush requested for the CCE modernization project and other supporting technology initiatives.

Customers are waiting

Less funding could mean a longer wait for USDA to migrate applications and data from legacy systems to CCE, through which the department plans to provide e-government services to customers, such as farmers, ranchers and commodities organizations, an Agriculture official said.

'If it occurs, it will affect that,' said Richard Roberts, executive project manager for the project in Agriculture's CIO office.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its own version approving $119 million for CCE, $59 million less than requested. Although the Senate committee recommended more than the House funding, the figure is $13 million less than USDA received this year for the computer modernization.

It became apparent that several Agriculture programs would face reductions, with total funding $400 million less than 2003, said Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. 'Although I am supportive of the Common Computing Environment program, we are indeed faced with this fiscal reality and our appropriation had to reflect these constraints,' he said in a statement.

The full Senate will likely vote on the USDA spending bill in early September.

The Bush administration said in a statement that the budget reduction 'will slow USDA's progress on implementing a geographical information system that would improve USDA's ability to effectively administer commodity and conservation programs and to track natural disasters, animal and plant disease outbreaks, and bioterrorism events.'

Most of the $45 million increase requested for CCE was marked for GIS investments, according to the budget request. The House and the Senate Appropriations Committee erased that and some funds earmarked for equipment enhancements and some migration projects.

Meanwhile the House and Senate committees' release of $375 million for U.S. Visit 'is not a done deal,' according to one congressional staff member. GAO officials have briefed the committees' staffs on the content of a review of the program.

State is not asking for funds above those already appropriated for the U.S. Visit project but for the green light to obligate the funds.

'GCN senior editor Wilson P. Dizard III and staff writers Mary Mosquera and Dawn S. Onley contributed to this story.

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