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Lawmakers Highlight Cyber, New Tech and Space in Proposed Spending Bill

by Nextgov
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The sweeping $1.7 trillion 2023 omnibus spending bill unveiled by Congress on Tuesday includes funding for a wide range of technology, cybersecurity and space initiatives across the federal government, from enhanced efforts to counter cyber threats, to additional funding to accelerate the domestic production of new technologies and spur on the adoption of innovative next-generation solutions.

The massive spending package–which needs to be signed into law by the end of this week to avoid a partial government shutdown–includes $858 billion in defense-related spending, as well as another $772.5 billion for non-defense priorities. Much of the bill’s tech-centered defense funding is focused on supporting “disruptive technologies like hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, 5G and quantum computing.” This includes $139.7 billion in research and development funding for the Defense Department–the largest R&D budget in the history of the agency, according to congressional appropriators.

Both the omnibus and the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act emphasize the importance of cybersecurity, emerging technology and space with their fund allocations to these areas.

Cybersecurity

The spending package, in part, allocates $50 million to “address cybersecurity threats emanating from Russia and other malign actors,” as well as $422 million for the Office of Personnel Management to “address cybersecurity and hiring initiatives.” And it also includes a provision requiring the Federal Trade Commission to report on cross-border complaints involving cyberattacks committed by foreign actors, with a particular focus on those from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

Other federal agencies also received additional funding to bolster their cyber workforces and enhance their own cyber defense capabilities.

The omnibus bill provides $69 million for the Nation Science Foundation’s CyberCorps program, which is a $6 million increase from last year. The program provides students with scholarships if they agree to work for the government in cybersecurity after graduation. The Justice Department would also receive funding for immediate cybersecurity responses and to modernize its systems to support its cybersecurity efforts. Additionally, the Energy Department would have $200 million for cybersecurity, energy security and emergency response.

The Senate would also get money for cybersecurity efforts as part of its $1.15 billion in funding.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The omnibus sets aside billions of dollars in funding for the VA to expand its technical capabilities, from ongoing projects to IT-focused initiatives.

The bill allocates $1.8 billion for the continued deployment of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new Oracle-Cerner electronic health record system, which has been beleaguered by delays and patient safety concerns since it went live in 2020 at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.

The VA previously announced in October that it was delaying future rollouts of the new EHR system until June 2023 to address continuing issues with the software’s deployment. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.–the current ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and who is poised to become the panel’s chairman in the 118th Congress–previously said that lawmakers should “seriously consider pulling the plug” on the new system if the continuing performance and patient safety concerns are not remedied.

The bill also includes $5.8 billion in funding for the VA’s information technology systems, which Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee said represents an increase of $270 million over the 2022 fiscal year spending package.

Department of Homeland Security

The spending package also makes significant investments in cyber and technology initiatives within the Department of Homeland Security, including setting aside $901 million for DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, which serves as the department’s research and development hub.

The bill also allocates $2.9 billion for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which represents an increase of $313 million from the agency’s 2022 fiscal year budget. This includes setting aside more than $1.7 billion for cybersecurity efforts that include “the protection of civilian federal networks that also benefit state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) government networks.” The bill would also allocate $46 million to CISA for “threat hunting and response capabilities” across federal, SLTT and critical infrastructure networks, as well as $17 million for “emergency communications preparedness” and an additional $32 million for “increasing regional operations capabilities.”

A topline summary of the bipartisan spending package from Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee also notes that the bill makes “critical investments in the Secret Services’ ability to combat cyber-crimes,” including making $23 million in funding available for the National Computer Forensics Institute, which serves as a national training center for law enforcement officials to learn about methods for investigating and combating cyber and electronic crimes. The 2023 NDAA, which passed the Senate last week, would reauthorize the federally-funded NCFI through 2028.

The Department of Commerce

The omnibus bill would provide the Commerce Department over $11 billion in total between its different entities, and $35 million specifically allocated for technology modernization and cybersecurity risk mitigation for the agency.

Specifically, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $6.2 billion in FY23, which is $324 million more than the previous fiscal year. The funding will support NOAA’s key operations–weather and ocean monitoring, fishery management, grant and partnership programs–and staff the National Weather Service in addition to continuing its procurement and development of critical observing tools like satellites, vessels and aircraft.

The bill allocates $1.6 billion to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support research and development opportunities. This includes climate, energy and artificial intelligence initiatives, such as the continued development of an AI framework. Specifically, the bill instructs NIST to “develop resources for government, corporate and academic uses of AI to train and test systems, model AI behavior and compare systems.” NIST would also need to meet the increasing demand for the Facial Recognition Vendor Test and improve the test from previous suggestions. As a result, the agency will receive at least $4 million more than FY22’s enacted level for research and measurement science endeavors. NIST would also receive funding for its efforts with unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as at least $7.5 million more than it received last year for its cybersecurity efforts.

Additionally, the omnibus provides $500 million for the Regional Technology and Innovation Hub Program. While the CHIPS and Science Act authorized Commerce’s innovation hub program to receive up to $10 billion over four years, the omnibus spending bill would formally allocate a portion of that authorized funding for the new program in FY23.

Space

The bill provides $25 billion for NASA–an increase of $975 million from the previous fiscal year–including $7.5 billion for human moon exploration, $2.6 billion for the Space Launch System, $1.34 billion for Orion and about $800 million for Artemis-related ground systems. As noted in the bill, NASA would receive $144 million for STEM education, $935 million for aeronautics programs, research and X-plane development, in addition to $7.8 billion to continue the agency’s science missions, such as the Roman telescope and robotics to explore the moon and Mars.

Other Spending

In addition to funding cybersecurity, emerging technology and space initiatives, the omnibus spending bill also supports a range of other assistance and aid programs.

The spending package includes $1.8 billion in funding to help implement the CHIPS and Science Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in August and allocated billions of dollars to help boost domestic semiconductor research, production and manufacturing.

The bill would provide the National Science Foundation funding for its Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, which the agency formed at the beginning of 2022.

The 4,155-page spending bill would also allocate $50 million to the Technology Modernization Fund–well below the White House’s requested $300 million. Recent TMF funding has looked to improve customer experience on government websites. And lawmakers also included a variety of non-financial provisions in the spending package, including one that would impose a ban on the use of the popular video app TikTok on government devices over national security concerns.

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