The U.S. Senate Tuesday night passed the House version of the Homeland Security bill creating a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security combining 22 federal agencies with an estimated budget of $37.4 billion, including $2.12 billion for IT. The measure represents almost a year of often intense legislative debate and calls for the most sweeping reorganization of the executive branch in the last half century.

President George W. Bush, who has called the passage of the legislation "the single most important business" before the lame duck Congress, is expected to sign the bill into law in a matter of days.

The major agencies giving up their independent status and joining the Department of Homeland Defense include the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Immigration and Nationalization Service.

The bill includes allowing the new Secretary of Homeland Defense to designate a lead research organization to help coordinate security research across the government, the academic community and the private sector.

Another new provision, adopted from an earlier Senate version, establishes and funds a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, similar to DoD's DARPA, to help identify promising technologies.

The legislation also adds two new provisions that "encourage partnerships between government and the private sector to better protect civilian infrastructures such as telecommunications, transportation nodes and power grids."

In addition, it establishes procedures to encourage private industry to share infrastructure vulnerabilities with the government to help identify and correct weaknesses and calls for a so-called NET Guard, volunteer teams to help local communities respond and recover from attacks on information systems and communications networks.

The combined 2002 IT budgets for the agencies being incorporated into the new department is $1.47 billion. That number is expected to jump to $2.12 billion in 2003. Overall, the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA) is predicting total federal IT spending will be approximately $53 billion. According to GEIA federal IT spending will reach approximately $67 billion by 2008.