Bill would cut Defense IT funds

The Defense Department appropriations bill for fiscal 2004 that is expected to head to the House floor on Tuesday would cut millions of dollars from information technology programs but partially salvage a beleaguered manufacturing assistance program popular on Capitol Hill.

The House Defense appropriations bill would provide approximately $27.58 billion for information technology, roughly $321 million less than the Bush administration request of $27.9 billion. While the proposed cut falls well short of the $1.7 billion in IT cuts authorized by the House Armed Services Committee last month, it remains troubling to the high-tech industry.

"While the cuts in the House appropriations bill aren't anywhere near what we see in the House authorization bill, $300-plus million is quite significant," said Brendan Peter, a senior director in the enterprise-solutions division of the Information Technology Association of America.

The technology industry would prefer to see as high a figure as possible spent on information technology and favors the approach in the Senate's Defense authorization bill, which would exceed the president's request by $1.7 billion.

"From a tech industry perspective, we wish [the House and Senate] would meet in the middle" or closer to the Senate version, one industry source said.

Before last week's congressional recess, the House agreed to debate the appropriations bill, H.R. 2658, on the floor this week. The bill would make across-the-board tech cuts of $100 million each for the Navy and Air Force, $60 million for the Army and $60 million departmentwide. The cuts would not be ordered for specific programs, as is the case with the House-passed Defense authorization bill, which calls for cuts in programs such as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet.

Despite the broader cuts, the House appropriations bill would provide millions of dollars for new, smaller IT programs in each branch of the military. For instance, the Army would get $5 million for an online portal for disaster recovery. The Navy would receive $6.5 million for a management information system, and the Air Force would get $3 million for a study on Internet and wireless technology. The Army National Guard would receive funding for various programs, including IT services and high-speed Internet.

Most of the services would be funded to bolster information assurance and improve online education and training. The money also would be used to boost data analysis and storage capabilities for the military.

The House appropriations bill also would partially fund the Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP), a popular technology assistance program that is again slated for the axe by the administration next year. The bill would provide $6 million departmentwide to develop a test project for a rapid-response supply chain for defense manufacturing at the California Manufacturing Technology Center, a leading MEP program.

"It is noteworthy that the Defense Department, seeing how the program has been slated for phase-down at the Commerce Department, is putting money directly into a leading MEP center," said David Peyton, director of technology policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.