Lack of funding grounds IT upgrades at TSA

Short on cash, the Transportation Security Administration is stuck in a holding pattern on its IT infrastructure.

The agency recently halted work on the upgrade because it does not have enough money to finish the current phase at 600 locations.

Acting deputy CIO Joe Peters said 400 out of 600 airports and other locations have not received what TSA calls the white package, which includes upgrades to broadband connections, LANs, WANs, offsite application hosting and high-tech telephone systems.

'We have a [$1.3] billion IT budget, and the IT infrastructure projects only see a portion of that,' Peters said this month at Input's Marketview 2004 conference in Falls Church, Va. 'Most of the budget goes towards explosive-detection systems.'

Peters estimated TSA needs about $200 million more to finish deploying the white package.

Some locations are using dial-up modems to connect to the Internet and have only basic phone systems, he said.

Observers said the White House has not requested enough money for TSA over the last two years, and only for fiscal 2005 is proposed funding level close to adequate.

Persistent concerns

'We've been concerned about the funding levels at TSA since its beginning,' said a staff member for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 'We've consistently felt TSA hasn't had the money to do what was necessary to move in the right direction.'

The administration requested $5.3 billion for TSA for fiscal 2005, up from $4.6 billion in 2003 and $4.5 billion in 2002.

For IT, the president asked for $1.3 billion in 2005, but most of it goes to a few large projects, such as bomb-sniffing systems, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II and personnel systems. Office of Management and Budget spokesman J.T. Young denied that TSA has been shortchanged. The agency has received more than $15 billion since it was created in 2001 and will see a 20 percent increase in 2005, he said.

'The administration has worked to ensure that TSA has the resources it needs to perform its core aviation security missions, including upgrades to its IT infrastructure,' Young said. 'For 2003 through the president's 2005 request, TSA invests twice as much in IT infrastructure as a share of its total spending than the average for all of DHS.'

Robert Atkinson, vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, said the Bush administration's record for appropriately funding IT projects is poor.

'They are unwilling to make investments now and get payoffs later,' said Atkinson, who has written several papers on TSA and worked on the Homeland Security Task Force of the Markle Foundation, a New York technology think tank. 'TSA and the Homeland Security Department have not gotten the money they need. You can't fund agencies on the cheap and get by.'

He said the administration must exhibit a sense of urgency for TSA to complete its mission.

'This administration looks at TSA like it looks at other programs like Food Stamps. It doesn't want to spend money because their belief is in small government,' he said.

The Senate staff member said the funding shortages have put many TSA projects behind schedule.

This is not the first time TSA officials have had to slow down the IT infrastructure installation.
In 2003, the agency's overall budget was short $1.6 billion, forcing IT managers to delay installation work for the white package.

TSA finished the first part of the program, the red package of basic IT services, in 2002.

The third part, the blue package, is still to come. It would include installation of advanced technologies such as electronic surveillance and biometric systems.

'We are stuck in a predicament,' Peters said. 'We are a new agency without legacy IT infrastructure to operate on, and funding shortfalls have prevented us from expanding capability.'

TSA is working with Homeland Security CIO Steve Cooper to identify and prioritize infrastructure requirements.

'The entire department is trying to baseline all our programs, and until that is done, we can't prioritize our needs,' he said. 'Until the funding situation changes, our IT expansion is in a holding pattern.'

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