Congress to debate big tech projects for homeland security

The House and Senate will debate spending on large technology projects as they each mark up homeland security spending bills in the coming weeks.

Steve Bull, manager of the legislative analysis division at Anser in Arlington, Va., said the spending decisions Congress makes for fiscal 2005 will be very difficult. Anser, or Analytic Services Inc., is a nonprofit, public service research institute.

"There are no guarantees in this business," he said. "Who decides how much protection is enough. Who decides what is the most likely threat [to protect against]?"

For example, Congress must decide which airplanes to equip with defensive systems, Bull said.

Congress has appropriated $62 million this year for the systems, which are designed to protect planes from missile attacks. The administration has requested another $62 million for the systems in 2005, Bull said ? for an initiative that is expected to cost at least $10 billion.

According to the Congressional Research Service, there are more than 700,000 portable missiles worldwide, and there have been 29 incidents were people have tried to fire them at planes, Bull said.

Congress may decide to allocate more money than the Bush administration has requested for 2005 in numerous areas, Bull said. These areas include the U.S. Visit program, explosive detection systems used in transportation, and the Coast Guard's Deepwater infrastructure modernization program, he said.

"Congress is still very concerned about visa overstays," Bull said, and may decide to dedicate additional resources to the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator System for identifying and finding the 400,000 visitors to the United States who have overstayed their visas.

This week the contract to develop the U.S. Visit system was awarded to Accenture Ltd. of Hamilton, Bermuda. The contract could be worth up to $10 billion over 10 years. Accenture will integrate more than a dozen databases the federal government uses to track travelers and terrorists, and plan the technical development of future border protection systems.

The administration has requested only 75 percent of the money needed to buy explosive detection systems, Bull said, because some officials believe the private sector should contribute more funds to the effort. Congress may decide 75 percent is not enough, he said.

The $17 billion Integrated Deepwater Project, which has bipartisan support, is now expected to take 27 years instead of 20 years because of funding delays and management problems, Bull said.

"I would not be surprised if Congress added money to get it back on schedule," he said.

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