Homeland security's IT cost: $2.9 billion

The U.S. government faces a hefty annual bill for technology related to homeland security, but federal agencies fall short on implementation, according to the audit arm of Congress.

The U.S. government spent at least $2.9 billion in 2002 on information technology related to homeland security and is slated to spend at least that amount again this year, Congress' auditing arm said.

In a report released Tuesday, the General Accounting Office also said the two-year, $5.8 billion figure may be low because of potential IT-related costs not captured in the report.

Such costs include multiagency IT infrastructure, new intelligence systems and funding for existing agency missions that seem related to homeland security, such as efforts by the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The GAO said that for fiscal 2003, roughly $26.3 billion in IT funding has been requested for the Defense Department. That's half of the federal government's overall $52.6 billion IT funding request for the year. Federal spending on IT was $48.6 billion last year, the report said.

Total funding on homeland security is slated to rise to $37.8 billion this year from $30.3 billion in fiscal 2002, according to the report. Fiscal 2002 ended Sept. 30.

The GAO report was called for by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, part of the Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs. The subcommittee's chair is Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Besides tallying funding totals, the GAO was asked to examine IT management issues facing federal agencies involved in homeland security.

Congress' watchdog reported that serious flaws persist. Agencies with significant homeland security IT funding requests have not yet followed recommendations from the GAO related to topics including securing information, having an architecture to guide system development efforts, managing IT investments and developing and acquiring information systems.

The Treasury Department, for which $633.8 million in homeland security IT funding has been requested, has 346 "open" recommendations. The Justice Department, for which $779 million has been requested, has 17 open recommendations.

The Department of Homeland Security, created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, could provide a boost to technology companies trudging through an IT spending slump. The GAO found that homeland security-related IT funding for federal organizations that have been targeted to join the new department totaled $1.2 billion in 2002. That number climbed to $1.7 billion in 2003.

Organizations slated to move to the department include the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service and the National Infrastructure Protection Center.

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