Congress fiddles while budget churns

John Spotila, GTSI president and chief operating officer, said the real issue is not if, but when, the federal IT budget will be approved.


Even though Congress has failed to agree as of this writing on any of the 13 spending
bills for fiscal 2003, lawmakers are expected to approve the president's $52 billion
spending request for information technology products and services.


"The
real issue is not if Congress will approve that amount, but when. Congress may make
modifications in specific cases, but I think they are going to be very supportive,"
said John Spotila, president and chief operating officer of GTSI Corp., a Chantilly, Va.,
IT reseller.


Lawmakers have said they hope to pass a few spending
bills before recessing for the November elections, but the majority will be left on the
table until later this fall or even next year.


President Bush
requested $45 billion in IT spending for fiscal 2002, which ended Sept. 30. That figure
increased to $48 billion with supplemental spending after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


Joseph Kampf said he thinks supplemental budget bills in 2003 may push IT
spending even higher than $52 billion.


"I think everyone is
expecting there to be a supplemental [budget bill] above and beyond what's in the budget
for IT," Kampf said. He is president and chief executive officer of Anteon
International Corp. of Fairfax, Va., a provider of IT and systems engineering services.


"It's very hard to know what the spending requirement is going to
be," Kampf said, given the possibility of military conflict with Iraq. Most conflicts
are funded by supplemental requests, he noted.


Spotila said he
believes Congress should consider IT spending above $52 billion not only for homeland
security and defense programs, but also for improving government efficiency.


<>
SIZE="2">"There is a lot of emphasis on homeland security, but the e-government
initiatives are very important. Even though it's not a huge amount of money, it is
significant," said Spotila, who served in the Clinton administration as administrator
of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The Bush administration has requested $45 million for e-government projects
in fiscal 2003. The projects are designed to foster cross-agency collaboration and improve
government efficiency and effectiveness through the use of technology.


<>
SIZE="2">While executives are optimistic about IT funding, they said they aren't likely to
see any boost to their bottom lines until the third or fourth quarter of 2003.

<>
SIZE="2">"I think the money won't get heavily committed until late in the year,"
said Louis Ray, president and chief executive officer of MATCOM International Corp., an IT
and engineering services provider in Alexandria, Va.

For example,
the 2003 budget request contains about $3 billion for systems to support first responders
in state and local governments, Ray said. Until Congress decides whether the funds are
going to flow directly to the states or through the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
"that money isn't going anywhere," Ray said.


Once
details are worked out on that allocation and others, the third and fourth quarters should
be very good for IT contract awards, Ray said.


Of top concern to
many industry officials is the bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security and
the military spending bills, which lawmakers said they hope to approve before the November
congressional elections.


"Until we see which agencies the new
department includes, how big of a budget it has and how much DoD will spend, it's hard to
add it up and see what the final number will be," Kampf said. "Anteon gets 72
percent of its business from DoD, so we are just hoping the DoD bill gets passed before
the election."

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