Bush signs $30 billion DHS spending bill

President George W. Bush has signed the fiscal 2006 Homeland Security Department appropriations bill, thereby releasing funds for contractors that had been working "at risk" while awaiting the funding measure to become law. The bill continues or increases funding for dozens of technology-related programs.

The bill includes $30.8 billion in net discretionary spending?a $2.4 billion, or 4.7 percent, increase by the administration's method of counting?and many features Congress added that departed from the administration's original budget request.

In the eight months since the administration first published its 2006 DHS spending plan, the department's priorities have been whipsawed by two policy forces: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's reorganization plan and pressure from Congress to limit illegal immigration.

The spending bill adopts Chertoff's plan in most respects, and congressional leaders repeatedly have said that they will cooperate with administration moves to shift funds in accordance with the reorganization.

The tighter border control plan, however, reached a level of controversy equaled only by months of squabbling about how to allocate DHS grant funds across states.

The bill includes $30.8 billion in net discretionary spending? a $2.4 billion, or 4.7 percent, increase by the administration's method of counting.

Congressional appropriators presented the same figures differently in their analysis of the change from year to year, citing an increase of $1.4 billion above last year's spending and $1.3 billion above the administration request.

Different methods of counting for reserve funds, working capital accounts, recissions and other budget arcana led to the difference in results at each end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

However the numbers might be counted, DHS' overall spending increased. The department's technology spending level of about $6 billion contains large technology initiatives such as major programs for a centralized financial management system, consolidated networks, new technology under the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program and likely upgrades to border IT under the Americas Shield Initiative.

The spending bill includes other sources of funding for IT, much of it woven into technology-heavy programs such as the Coast Guard's $933 million Integrated Deepwater program to overhaul the service's fleet and IT systems.

The Customs and Border Protection agency received $5.95 billion in direct funding. Much of that money will go toward continuing the ambitious Automated Commercial Environment program to update Customs' IT, as well as technology to hire, train and support an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents.

The spending bill allocates $4 billion to a new Preparedness Directorate created by Chertoff's reorganization plan, which will gather in programs to strengthen cybersecurity, among other functions.

Congressional spending chiefs expressed their frustration with the department's spotty record in managing technology programs by embedding strict oversight provisions into many of the bill's detailed provisions.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a senior writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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