House, Senate conferees agree on 2006 spending for USDA

House and Senate conferees agreed late last week on $17.1 billion in fiscal 2006 spending for the Department of Agriculture outlined in the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies spending bill.

The House approved the conference report Friday, while the Senate is expected to consider the measure tomorrow.

The final bill provides $17.1 billion in discretionary spending'a 1.8 percent increase over the $16.8 billion in the previous year. The president had requested $16.7 billion.

Agriculture would receive $110.1 million to continue to restructure the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Farm Service and the Rural Development division. Under the Common Computing Environment, USDA is updating and integrating its county field offices, introducing Web-based business applications and replacing aging information systems.

Funding for the Common Computing Environment is more than the $60.7 million proposed by the House, but less than the $118.1 million proposed by the Senate. USDA must continue to report progress on the modernization effort to Congress each quarter. Congress has funded the Common Computing Environment at more than $500 million since fiscal 2000 and that funding will level off or decrease as USDA achieves savings from the effort, the conferees' report said.

Lawmakers also provided $5.9 million to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for USDA to market and expand cross-servicing activities of the National Finance Center, which provides e-payroll and other services to USDA agencies and others across government.

Conferees put limits on USDA's spending for competitive sourcing, requiring Agriculture to obtain congressional approval for use of funds for competitive sourcing related to National Finance Center services, rural development and farm loan programs. Congressional approval is also required for transferring funds from other areas to the CIO's office.

Lawmakers gave the CIO more authority over the appropriated IT funds, requiring that the CIO and the Executive IT Investment Board approve spending by agencies for new IT systems or significant upgrades.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $33.3 million toward its animal identification systems to track and monitor animal health and stop cases of mad cow and other disease breakouts.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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