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New PCs to help airports improve security

The Bush administration plans to upgrade computer systems used by passenger screeners in more than 100 U.S. airports to improve security.

The Bush administration said Thursday that it will upgrade computer systems used by passenger screeners in more than 100 U.S. airports in an effort to improve security.

Security screeners who are now employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) receive only cell phones, pagers and computers with dial-up modems. This plan aims to create an information technology "infrastructure" that would give screeners a faster, more coordinated way to receive sensitive information.

The plan is a joint project of the TSA, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the U.S. Customs Service.

"These agencies are setting an example for the rest of the federal government that we can prioritize our resources, and work together to meet our collective Homeland Security goals," said Steve Cooper of the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Thursday's announcement comes after a process that began in July, when the OMB froze information technology spending for new development or modernization for projects higher than $500,000. The spending halt applied only to agencies, such as the TSA, INS and Customs, that would become part of the proposed Department of Homeland Security.

But the administration's "IT Investment Review Group" approved this special request for improved airport computer systems, using the setup that was already in place at Washington Dulles International Airport as a model.

Prospects for congressional approval of the department before year-end seem increasingly slim. But the Bush administration hasn't abandoned hope.

"The federal government must ensure that IT investments are made in an efficient and cost-effective manner," Mark Forman, an associate director at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, told Congress on Oct. 1. "This includes the appropriate migration of federal homeland security IT investments--the result of bringing together currently separate component agencies."

Forman said all the agencies that would together form the proposed department will spend at least $900 million on information technology in the fiscal year that began this month.