Senate stimulus bill packed with IT spending

The $365 billion stimulus bill the Senate Finance Committee approved on Jan. 27 is packed with IT spending, including incentives to encourage health information technology, expansion of broadband services and funds for modernization projects at numerous agencies.

"The overarching goal of this measure is to return our unemployed workers to the workforce, where they can help prime the economy," the committee report that accompanies the bill stated. "Equally important is to invest either in beneficial projects, which have been planned and approved by federal officials and are ready to begin, but for which funds have been unavailable, or to invest in new technology that can help stimulate commercial business using this initial investment from the public sector."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan includes $9 billion to fund the expansion of broadband service and $5 billion to stimulate the development of health information technology. The total amount of IT spending could exceed $30 billion, depending on how some agencies allocate funds.

The $9 billion set aside for broadband will be used for grants targeted at areas with no service, with a requirement that 50 percent of the funds be used for rural areas. The Senate's broadband investment is $3 billion more than the House earmarked.

Similar to the House bill, the Senate version includes $4.5 billion to modernize the nation's electric grid. The Energy Department's Innovative Loan Guarantee program for products that help reduce the number of greenhouse gases and create energy using bio-friendly technologies received $10 billion, $2 billion more than the House bill.

The Homeland Security Department, one of the largest recipients of technology funds, was given $200 million for border security technology and $200 million for port inspection technology. The Transportation Security Association received $1.2 billion for aviation security and baggage screening technology at airports, while customs collected $97 million for tactical communications equipment and radios.

The Census Bureau received $1 billion to help cover the costs of the 2010 decennial census. The bureau has said the upcoming census will be significantly overbudget, partly caused by the need to abandon its plan to use handheld computers to record data on households.

The Agriculture Department was allotted $200 million to fund grants for distance learning and telemedicine in rural areas, while the Farm Service Agency received $171 million for its IT modernization, far below the House's $245 million figure.

The bill also includes funding for science and research, including more than $1.2 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to research climate change and develop technologies to model the climate. NASA received $1.5 billion, $500 million of which must be used for aeronautics, which includes the development of the Next-Generation air traffic control system.

Several agencies also were given funding for specific IT modernization projects, including the State Department, which will get $120 million to develop a backup information management facility and $98 million to cover its cybersecurity responsibilities. The Social Security Administration received $750 million to replace its national computing center and upgrade its IT infrastructure to handle the increased demands on its processing system.

The Veterans Affairs Department will collect $195 million to upgrade its IT systems, $145 million of which must be used for its benefits claim-processing system.

Many agencies received discretionary funding, which the bill states may be used for IT. They include the Education Department, which received $16 billion for modernizing schools, an unspecified portion of which may be used on IT. The General Services Administration was apportioned $6 billion to repair federal buildings and make them more energy efficient, which will likely include the acquisition of green technologies.