White House, Congress at odds over the Defense spending bill

'The bill includes a large number of unauthorized and unrequested provisions. I hope that the sponsors will carefully reconsider these damaging provisions,' said Sen. John McCain.

Kevin Dietsch

Cuts loom for FCS, other IT-intensive programs

A fight over Defense Department spending is brewing between Capitol Hill and the White House.

Several of the department's transformational programs are facing major reductions in the Senate's version of the bill, and the administration is doing more than voicing a few concerns.

In the Senate's recently approved $445.4 billion fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill, which is $7 billion under President Bush's request and $939 million less than the 2005 bill, lawmakers propose significant cuts to Air Force space programs and would eliminate funding for two ships the Navy requested.

The House passed its version of the DOD spending bill in July, allocating $408 billion.

The House and Senate now will meet to reach a compromise on the bill's amendments before sending it to President Bush for signature.

In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House lashed out at the proposed cuts. Bush threatened to veto the budget proposal if an amendment mandating consistent standards for the treatment of military detainees, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is not removed from the final bill.

'The administration is concerned with the numerous funding reductions, prior-year rescissions, and acquisition guidelines for specific programs, particularly those affecting Navy shipbuilding, Air Force space systems and Army modernization,' according to the White House statement. 'The administration opposes major reductions to transformational programs.'

Some of the programs that fell under the Senate's ax include the Transformational Satellite Communications program, which senators reduced by $250 million, and the software-programmable Joint Tactical Radio System, which received a $236 million cut. The Senate cut $126 million from the Space-Based Radar initiative, $100 million from the Army's Future Combat Systems program request, $270 million from the Joint Strike Fighter program and $440 million in funding requests for two Navy Littoral Combat Ships.

The defense bill does restore funding to the controversial De- fense Travel System, an online travel booking system that several senators recently proposed shutting down when the contract ex- pires next year.

Pork dispute

'I am pleased that the cuts are reductions for programs that were underexecuted in the last fiscal year,' McCain said during debate of the bill on the Senate floor. 'Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the bill also includes a large number of unauthorized and unrequested provisions. I hope that the sponsors will carefully reconsider these damaging provisions as the bill works its way through the legislative process.'

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow who specializes in Defense strategy at the Brookings Institution, applauded senators for making what he called 'tough choices' in proposing budget cuts.

O'Hanlon said he especially supported cuts to FCS and the Space-Based Radar initiatives.

'Philosophically speaking, I'm not persuaded the technology is ready to do a lot for the Future Combat Systems,' O'Hanlon said, adding that he would support the program moving at a slower pace.

Also, the Space-Based Radar program 'risks being a white elephant. It's a little bit overpromising,' O'Hanlon said.

Senate lawmakers earmarked $585.7 million for the Transformational Satellite Communications Program, while the House allocated $436.7 million.

TSAT is designed to assist communications over the Global Information Grid, DOD's massive project to create a worldwide network for voice, video and data communications. The project would form a laser communications backbone in space and is expected to operate at multiple gigabits per second.

The House and Senate agreed to fund the Space-Based Radar program at $100 million, $126 million below the administration's request. The program would build a constellation of 12 to 24 radar satellites designed to track ground movement and collect high-resolution imagery.

The Army would receive $3.3 billion for FCS, $100 million less than requested.

'The Committee remains very supportive of the FCS program and commends the Department of the Army in its effort to restructure the business aspects of the FCS program,' the lawmakers said in the appropriations committee's report.

Common computer network

The Army expects FCS to link 18 manned and unmanned weapons systems via a common computer network known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical. The Navy's high-speed, networked Littoral Combat Ships, part of the newest ship class, are expected to feature an open-architecture electronics suite.

Some of the other provisions in the budget include:
  • The Defense Department is prohibited from using funds for a mission-critical or mission-essential financial management IT system that is not registered with DOD's CIO. The system also cannot receive approval, or full-rate production approval, until the CIO certifies to legislative Defense committees that the system is being developed in accordance with the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.

  • The Defense secretary is required to maintain Web site information on federal contractor misconduct and to require reports on federal no-bid contracts related to Iraq construction.

  • The Defense secretary is required to develop a strategy for space situational awareness and commission an independent study to assess options for evolving the Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Wideband Gapfiller systems.

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