Commerce: IT heavyweight

The Commerce Department's 2004 budget request includes funding to strengthen the nation's measurement and standards infrastructure, modernize the Patent and Trademark Office, homeland security standards, and continue development of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's environmental satellites.

The request reflects the nation's "war footing," said Philip J. Bond, the under secretary of Commerce for technology during a briefing today.

While new or additional funds for many initiatives throughout the federal government are limited during a wartime footing, technological innovation at the Department of Commerce will receive a noticeable boost in this environment, he said.

The president's top priorities for 2004 are national security, homeland security and economic security, Bond said. "This is a budget that reflects the President's priorities-and technology is the common denominator," he said.

The president's fiscal 2004 budget provides $5.8 billion in funding for Commerce, of which $1.2 billion will be spent on IT funding, according to department officials. The proposal reflects the central role that the department will play in protecting the nation and its economy, especially in the areas of science and technology, according to the department.

The 2004 budget provides for the Commerce Department to receive:

  • $668.6 million for continued development and operation of NOAA's series of environmental satellites, an increase of $81.7 million from $586.9 million.

  • $38.7 million for homeland security standards development related to biometric identification, threat detection and high-rise safety, an increase of $10.3 million from $28.4 million.

  • $9.2 million in new funds to strengthen the nation's measurement and standards infrastructure.

  • $5.5 million in new funds for a scaled upgrade to the current NOAA Weather Radio operation to an All Hazards Warning Network, including systems to standardize and automate receipt and dissemination of chemical and biological emergency messages.

  • In addition, the president's 2004 budget calls for the Patent and Trademark Office to receive $253 million to complete electronic processing systems for patents and trademarks, said Brigid Quinn, a PTO spokeswoman.

    The PTO received $213 million and $281 million in fiscal 2002 and 2003, respectively, for this initiative. However, PTO hasn't received the 2003 funding because the federal government is still operating under the continuing budget resolution, she said.

    The electronic processing system for trademarks is partially completed and will be finished in 2003, while the electronic processing system for patents will be completed in 2004, she said.

    The systems have been under development for nearly a decade, Quinn said. "There is a big commitment by this administration to accelerate electronic processing," she said.

    Conrad Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator, said that his bureau plays a significant role in emergency preparedness and homeland security. For example, NOAA data is being used to assist with the recovery of debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere Feb. 2.

    "We usually don't get credit for being a technology agency, but let me assure we are," Lautenbacher said.

    About the Author

    William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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