Homeland request marbled with IT spending

The Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2004 budget proposal contains IT spending increases for projects begun at its component agencies salted throughout the $36.2 billion spending request.

Homeland secretary Tom Ridge at a budget briefing yesterday sidestepped a question about the scale of the department's overall IT spending next year. Other officials suggested the department had done well even to craft a full budget request from the legacy of its 22 component agencies and new administrative units.

Department budget documents cite $117 million for HSD-wide investments in IT and wireless communications, as well as $21 million for the homeland security IT evaluation program and $68 million for wireless radio communications and narrowband operations.

But even more IT spending likely will go to the information analysis and infrastructure protection operations of the department. They are scheduled for a $652 million boost to $829 million, a 370 percent increase compared to the funding spread throughout the component agencies' fiscal 2003 budget plans, according to homeland budget documents. The proportion of the infrastructure analysis spending that will be devoted to additional IT projects is still undecided.

Much of the infrastructure analysis spending will augment operations formerly carried out by the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Analysis Office.

Leading-edge projects will fall under the aegis of the department's new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, for which the administration requested $350 million for new technologies. Deputy secretary Gordon England declined to specify how much of that spending would go to IT, adding that 'until we get the [management] metrics in place, we don't want to spend money.'

'We are going to do rapid prototyping as soon as we can,' England said. 'The first thing we are going to do is look at what's available in the public sector and in the private sector, and [see] what areas have the highest payoff.'

Several major IT programs within the department's agencies were scheduled for additional funds in the budget request, including a $100 million increase for the Border and Transportation Security Directorate's Entry Exit System, which is set to receive $480 million.

The new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, also part of that directorate, is scheduled to receive $397 million for the former Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment and $11.2 million for its International Trade Data System. The administration also requested $164 million for the Atlas/Chimera system, a project to integrate immigrant databases.

Ridge said the department will gain savings in IT expenditures by eliminating overlapping systems among the component agencies. 'We believe we will get efficiencies, but I can't give you a dollar amount,' he said.

Another area of reduction, Ridge said, would be at the Transportation Security Administration, where spending is set to decline from $5.3 billion this year to $4.8 billion next year. Ridge said the reduction would come from the elimination of some of the agency's $685 million in start-up costs, part of which was funded by $2.4 billion in supplemental fiscal 2002 appropriations.

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