DHS wins big in fiscal 2007 budget proposal

Homeland Security Department IT projects appear poised to gain from the Bush administration's proposal to increase the department's overall budget by 6 percent to $42.7 billion.

'This is a strong budget for the Homeland Security Department,' secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday as he presented the details to reporters.

IT spending is marbled throughout the DHS budget in dozens of programs slated for increases. Chertoff noted that the spending plan 'supports our underlying philosophy of risk management,' which was the basis of his Second Stage Review reorganization plan released last year.

Chertoff highlighted the recently announced Secure Border Initiative in his budget presentation. Parts of the program, such as policy changes and increases in the number of Border Patrol officers and detention beds, won't require IT spending. But the budget calls for $100 million to be spent on technology deployed along the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada in fiscal 2007 as part of SBI. The 2006 budget included $31 million for the America's Shield Initiative, SBI's predecessor program.

DHS now is crafting a statement of objectives that will guide vendors seeking to bid on SBI's border technology element. The department has announced that SBI border technology must take advantage of existing resources deployed along the borders, as well as introduce innovative and proven technologies that will be integrated into a comprehensive system. 'The key is to have a good business plan so you can decide how to deal with the problem,' a senior DHS IT official said.

SBI technology also will include a $135 million line item to expand the existing Employment Verification pilot. The pilot is a voluntary program that uses databases to help employers check the eligibility of workers. 'This will provide an increased ability to verify [employee eligibility], and we are also going to get tougher with employers,' Chertoff said.

U.S. Visit, CIS IT overhaul get boosts

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program also came out a big winner in the budget proposal, with its proposed spending boosted to $399.5 million, an increase of $62.8 million from the 2006 level. The bulk of that increase, $60 million, will fund the task of coordinating the DHS identity database known as IDENT with the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint System. This database coordination task is aimed at supporting Chertoff's decision last year to obtain 10 fingerprints from travelers subject to U.S. Visit enrollment.

Also related to the handling of foreigners entering the country and dealing with visa, residence and citizenship status is a $112 million bump in the 2007 budget for Citizenship and Immigration Service's IT overhaul. The agency has been working for months to plan a business transformation project that could involve outsourcing large parts of its operations.

DHS' central IT operation fared well in the budget proposal, too. CIO Scott Charbo's headquarters operation is slated for an increase to $323.7 million for departmentwide IT. The information security and infrastructure account he manages is set to increase by $36.3 million to support systems infrastructure projects across the department. The department's data center development project, aimed at consolidating DHS' operations in two data centers, is slated for a $9 million increase.

Emerge2 to move forward

Another department IT project slated to move forward is the chief financial officer's Emerge2 project to upgrade the department's financial reporting systems. The project will 'invest in system enhancements, integrate systems and build tools to consolidate financial data,' according to DHS. It is scheduled to receive $18.2 million.

Other IT spending boosts crop up across the department, such as in Customs and Border Protection's automation modernization account. Much of that spending will go to the Automated Commercial Environment, a long-term project to upgrade customs collection information systems. CBP's IT modernization account is penciled in at $461.2 million, an increase of $9.7 million.

CBP's National Targeting Center, which uses advanced analytic tools'known as data mining'among other systems to detect risky passengers and cargo, is set for a $6.8 million increase in the 2007 budget, DHS said.

The Coast Guard, which at a 20 percent share of the department's budget represents the most heavily funded agency, is slated to receive $8.42 billion in the 2007 budget request. The guard's budget includes several IT projects, including the Maritime Domain Awareness program to protect the service's IT systems. DHS seeks to boost the MDA program by $6.4 million.

The Coast Guard budget proposal includes two programs slated for small decreases. The Nationwide Automatic Identification System project to help electronically identify ships is slated for a $12.8 million decrease, to $11.2 million. The guard's Rescue 21 system, which is aimed at modernizing communications along the coasts and inland waterways, is set for $39.6 million, a reduction of $1 million from the 2006 funded level.

The Coast Guard's biggest program, the decades-long Integrated Deepwater System project to modernize everything from cutters to aircraft and helicopters, would receive $934.4 under the administration's request, a $10.7 million increase over the 2006 level. Some of that money goes to IT for command and control system upgrades to cutters and land-based facilities.

The department's gross discretionary budget request for 2007 is $35.4 billion, a 6 percent increase over last year, according to budget documents. The department's total spending also includes $7.3 billion in mandatory spending such as Coast Guard pensions and immigration benefit charges, which brings the total up to $42.7 billion. The spending plan includes revenues from a proposed increase in fees levied on airline passengers to help pay for Transportation Security Administration screening, a proposal that Congress rejected last year.

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