Appropriators recognize Pentagon tech needs

Spending bill committee report signals that lawmakers understand importance of technology.

New members of Congress quickly learn that much policy in Washington is driven by where the money goes, and they also learn that Congress appropriates much of the money to the military.

This year is no exception, and with war commitments, defense spending is reaching new heights. Both the Senate and House in recent weeks have passed bills whose tabs exceed $416 billion to fund the Defense Department in fiscal 2005. The president requested $417.8 billion, including two amended requests, one of them $25 billion in emergency spending for war.

The Senate passed the bill, H.R. 4613, on a 98-0 vote Thursday; the House passed its competing version on a 403-17 vote two days earlier.

Technology is a key part of military spending as the department tries to stay ahead of enemies and rivals both in products and process, and the Senate Appropriations Committee report to that chamber's Defense spending bill shows an understanding of the importance of technology. The report includes numerous line items on tech-related programs and activities, including research and development.

For instance, the committee report says the Appropriations Committee recognizes the merits of commercially available encryption technology and encourages the Air Force to explore its use. "The committee understands this technology could be utilized for the protection of highly sensitive, special-access programs and could allow for communication of such data using commercial networks," the report said.

The Senate bill does not summarize Defense spending for information technology as the House measure does. The legislation did not differ significantly from the committee report on any major IT programs, according to a Senate aide.

Funds would be allotted for defense systems on the Internet, in the air and in outer space, on and under water, and on every type of topography. Many line items are designed to bolster IT systems and training. Research and development of far-reaching technological capabilities, such as data mining and threat detection, also would be funded in various accounts.

The Senate added tens of millions of dollars to the president's request for space technology. It also increased the request for research by hundreds of millions of dollars, ranging across disciplines from semiconductors to nanotechnology to cognitive computing systems.

The Senate would give $2.9 billion to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the department's research arm. But the committee called on DARPA to submit a comprehensive plan on transitioning its technologies to the military services or acquisition agents.

The committee also expressed concern in its report over the flexibility DARPA has in its budget. It said DARPA's director has the ability to discontinue programs and transfer resources through a review process that evaluates how promising and relevant the technologies are.

The committee also directed DARPA to increase the number of program elements included in its budget pertaining to individual programs. The move would increase transparency for each program, over half of which request more than $200 million in resources. Last year, the Senate cut funding for a DARPA data-mining technology called Total Information Awareness.