The lame duck U.S. Congress returns to work Tuesday with billions of dollars on the line for the IT industry. When the 107th Congress broke in late October for the midterm elections, it left unresolved legislation involving homeland security and a number of budget items that all have financial import for the technology industry.
In addition, the House is expected to pass the Cyber Security Research and Development Act, which has earmarked $900 million over the next five years to create research centers at colleges and universities throughout the country. The bill has already passed the Senate.
The House and Senate sessions represent the last efforts of the 107th Congress. Any legislation that isn’t passed by the end of this session will have to be re-introduced in both houses when the 108th Congress convenes in January.
At the urging of President George W. Bush, most of the legislative focus will be on the Senate, where compromise legislation on the Homeland Security bill is expected to be introduced this week. The House of Representatives passed a bill in July that would create the new cabinet-level agency, but the legislation has stalled in the Senate on a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over the civil service protections of the proposed agency’s 170,000 new employees.
For the IT industry, the legislation represents hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunities for new security networks, hardware and software. The bill will also call for the sharing of security information between the private sector and the government.
Budget bills also carry large expenditures for new technology but by the midterm election break, only 2 of 13 spending bills had been approved for the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The current temporary bill funding the government expires on Nov. 22.
For the lame duck session, Democrats will retain control of the Senate because independent Dean Barkley, appointed by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to fill out the remainder of the late Paul Wellstone’s term, said late Monday that he would not align himself with either Republicans or Democrats.
The Democrats control of the Senate, however, may be short. By the end of November, Rep. Jim Talent (R-Missouri) is expected to be sworn in to replace Sen. Jean Carnahan. Under Missouri law, Talent, who defeated Carnahan last week for the Missouri Senate seat, will be sworn in early because he won a special election.
When Talent is seated, the balance of power will swing to the Republicans.