Lawmakers want tech updates at State Department

Total money available for IT modernization at the agency in fiscal 2008 could be about $304 million.

The roughly $243 million in expedited passport fees expected to become available in fiscal 2008 should be used to support investments in information technologies and infrastructure at the State Department, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

The committee report on the foreign aid spending bill, H.R. 2764, cited that figure as the Bush administration's budget request for the fees. Added to the $59 million the panel approved for the department's capital investments, the total money for IT modernization in fiscal 2008 would be about $304 million.

According to the report, the committee has appropriated close to $2 billion for the department's global IT infrastructure since 2001 "to enable rapid and reliable communication between Washington and the more than 300 locations worldwide." The House report said the committee expects State "to maintain and protect this investment."

Appropriators also encouraged the office in charge of the U.S. government's worldwide overseas buildings program to pursue the development of integrated building management systems.

"Such technology upgrades to integrate disparate legacy systems will protect the large and continuing investment of taxpayer resources in overseas properties and those who occupy them," the report said. "The committee has provided sufficient resources to support this effort."

The House committee hailed the secretary of State's science and technology adviser "for continuing to promote the essential role of science and technology in diplomacy." The report calls for more "science and technology capacity and literacy within the department and the role of science and technology in our nation's foreign policy."

The committee said the secretary of State should be prepared to report to Congress on the progress during fiscal 2008 to increase departmental tech capabilities. The committee further encouraged the department to consider support for a project to create and test an iris-scanning system "to identify, track and log visitors at select U.S. missions."

Finally, the House committee endorsed attempts to defeat the jamming of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America signals for broadcasts to China, Tibet, Vietnam and North Korea. And the panel touted efforts to counter Internet censorship in China and Iran.

The report for the draft companion bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee said State should assess threats to the department's computer networks and "consider the need to improve the capacity to monitor inside threats to networks of U.S. missions."

The panel wants at least $22 million spent on American schools and hospitals abroad in fiscal 2008. The Agency for International Development administers the program, known as ASHA, and some of its work involves computer technology.