Senate limits IT funds in 2006 Commerce-Justice spending bill

The Senate has reined in IT funding for the Commerce and Justice departments and for science and independent agencies, even as it approved a much more generous overall budget than requested.

The Senate voted yesterday to approve $48.9 billion for the fiscal 2006 Commerce-Justice appropriations bill, which is $1.7 billion more than President Bush requested and $884.1 million more than Congress approved last year. The White House objected to the higher overall funding level.

Under the Senate bill, which is based on the previously passed House version, H.R. 2862, the Justice Department would receive $21.2 billion. FBI appropriations increased $175.1 million from last year, with more support for training and infrastructure.

In its Statement of Administration Policy issued last week, the Office of Management and Budget expressed concern over reduced funding for the multi-agency Terrorist Screening Center, which the FBI leads and which maintains the watch list system called the Terrorist Screening Database.

The Senate bill provides $135 million for Justice Information Sharing Technology, a group incorporating a variety of systems; that figure is $46.5 million below the president's request. In that appropriation, $10 million is earmarked for beginning deployment of a unified financial management system.

The failure of the FBI's Virtual Case File case management system led the Senate to direct Justice to establish an investment review board to review the thoroughness of business cases and cost justifications, and ensure performance measures for project milestones are created and complied with.

The Senate expressed concern about the FBI's Sentinel case management program, the successor to VCF. The FBI asked to redirect $90 million of department funding to develop Sentinel, but the Senate is allowing just $16.5 million to be redirected initially. The Senate, however, cited improvements through independent verification of requirements and cost estimates, phased-in development and deployment, commercial software and a new CIO with IT budget authority. The bill adds $7 million to strength its program management resources for Sentinel.

Senate funding for the Census Bureau is $727.4 million'$150 million below the administration budget request and $17.4 million lower than last year's appropriation. The bill provides $544.4 million for the periodic census program, $113 million less than the administration requested. Those funds will go to the 2010 decennial Census, which includes updating the Census Master Address File/Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing System.

The bill also requires Justice, Commerce and independent agencies to notify Congress in advance of reprogramming funds to create or eliminate programs, to increase resources for restricted or denied programs, or to reorganize programs or privatize activities.

The House and Senate must next reconcile the differences in their versions of the bills.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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