'06 budget plan targets IT upgrades, consolidation

Although President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget proposal calls for a 7.7 percent bump in spending at the Homeland Security Department to $41.1 billion, it also demands that DHS take steps to consolidate systems.

DHS deputy secretary James Loy, who is slated to step down this month, said at a press briefing Monday that total federal homeland security spending, including projects at other agencies, would rise to $49.9 billion.

The department's CIO office would receive $303.7 million. The $28.4 million increase would include:

  • $6.0 million increase for smart-card projects

  • $5.2 million boost for geospatial programs

  • $4.7 million for the communications infrastructure

  • $2.5 million to improve IT security and manage DHS' software portfolio

  • $2.5 million for an IT engineering center of excellence

  • $2.5 million for metadata technology.

Meanwhile, the administration also plans to centralize management of some of its most high-profile IT projects into a new Screening Coordination and Operations Office within the Border and Transportation Security Directorate. The new office would take over:

  • The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program

  • The Secure Flight passenger screening program

  • The Crew Vetting aircraft crew screening program

  • The Free and Secure Trade cargo risk assessment project

  • The Transportation Worker Identification Credential program to distribute identity cards to all transportation workers

  • The Registered Traveler program to prescreen frequent air travelers

  • The Hazardous Material Background Checks initiative

  • The Alien Flight School Checks program.

Programs within the new coordination office would share a budget of $846.9 million, with U.S. Visit slated to take a large slice at $390 million, up $50 million from this year.

DHS' consolidation plans also include continued growth for its IT networks. For example, the Transportation Security Administration would get $174 million for its High Speed Operational Capability project to provide data connections to checkpoints at airports.

As to other DHS-wide networking initiative, the department would receive $37 million for the Homeland Security Digital Network and an unspecified amount for its classified initiative, the Homeland Secure Information Network.

To secure its data and systems, DHS wants to devote $61.1 million to the Homeland Security Operations Center, an increase of $26.3 million.

The department's centralization theme also extends to the coordination of overlapping regional operations. Currently, there are multiple, redundant regional offices, DHS officials said at the briefing. The department plans to spend $49.9 million to standardize these offices, including the IT to support them.

Although many DHS technology programs are slated for increases, state and local IT projects funded through the department's grants programs would shrink, according to the budget blueprint. The State and Local Government Preparedness Office is facing an 11 percent reduction, down $420.1 million from its current level of nearly $4 billion to $3.6 billion.

"As the formula previously used to allocate these funds does not account for the unique threats, vulnerabilities and unmet needs of each state, the budget proposes to award these grants on a discretionary basis including evaluations of risk, and an application-based review of need, and consistency with national priorities," the budget noted.

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