Congress passes '06 authorization bill

House and Senate conferees have approved the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, signing off on $441.5 billion in budgetary spending for the Defense Department and a few Energy Department national-security programs.

The conference report was passed Dec. 19 by the full House and Senate and forwarded to President Bush for his signature. The Defense appropriations bill was also approved by the House-Senate conference committee.

The bill includes $76.9 billion in procurement funding, $70 billion for research and development, testing and evaluation, and $108.9 billion for military personnel.

Some of the programs that fell under the conferees' ax include the Air Force's Transformational Satellite Communications (TSAT) program, which was cut by $300 million, and the Space-Based Radar initiative, cut by $250 million. The Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program was slashed by $200 million as well.

"The conferees support the FCS program, and strongly endorse a program strategy that will enable early spin out of FCS technologies into the current force, a top priority of the chief of staff of the Army," conferees wrote in a report summary. "However, the conferees continue to have concerns and must ensure the program provides adequate transparency with regard to program management, critical technology maturity, manned ground vehicle lethality and survivability and other issues."

TSAT is designed to assist communications over the Global Information Grid, DOD's voice, video and data network. The project would form a laser communications backbone in space and is expected to operate at multiple gigabits per second. The Space-Based Radar program would build a constellation of 12 to 24 radar satellites designed to track ground movement and collect high-resolution imagery.

The hardest line conferees took was on DOD's acquisition processes. They are most concerned with three areas in the system: major Defense acquisition programs, internal controls for interagency procurement contracts and the management structure for procurement of service contracts.

"Conferees agreed to sweeping provisions to hold the Department of Defense and the services accountable for escalating prices in the acquisition system, including major weapons procurement and contracts for services," explained Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in a statement attached to the summary.

In next year's conference report, legislators are requiring DOD to more critically monitor the original baseline costs for major Defense acquisition programs. In the event that programs run over budget, the report will require DOD to explain what drove up the costs as well as why the program should be continued.

Other highlights of the report include:
  • Conferees agreed to fully fund the Joint Strike Fighter program, including $152.4 million for advance procurement and $4.9 billion combined for Navy and Air Force research, development, test and evaluation

  • $2 billion was approved for Army science and technology programs, an additional $250 million over the budget request

  • $1.8 billion was allocated for Navy science and technology, up more than $100 million from the request and

  • $2 billion will go to Air Force science and technology, nearly $100 million higher than the budget request.

  • Dawn S. Onley is a senior writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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