Maxwell-Gunter gets $10 million boost for software security
A Montgomery-based program that ensures the Air Force develops and uses secure computer software will get a $10 million boost from an omnibus spending bill nearing final approval in Congress.
The Application Software Assurance Center of Excellence at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Gunter Annex would survive at least another year with the money that Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, added to the $1 trillion spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2014.
The center, created in 2007 after a Defense Department security breach, has “proven a very valuable resource in strengthening the software against cyberattacks, which we’re all concerned about,” Shelby said recently.
But its future was uncertain after neither President Barack Obama nor the Air Force included direct funding for it in their fiscal 2014 budget proposals.
Salaries for the center’s government employees are accounted for in the federal budget for information systems security, but money to pay the center’s contractor, buy licenses for tools to analyze code and cover other expenses are not, according to the defense policy bill that passed the Senate in December.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee complained the center was forced to “live precariously” on periodic fund transfers.
A top Air Force official told Shelby last year that the center’s work is critical.
“This is a very important part of what we do to protect our networks and provide information assurance that the information that moves through our networks is not corrupted from the outside or even, potentially, from the inside,” then-Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said during budget hearings last summer. “So the center of excellence is providing important service to the Air Force.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee authorized the $10 million for the center, and Shelby, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee that directs federal dollars, included the money in the fiscal 2014 government spending bill.
Congress has banned earmarks, or money for home-state projects inserted into spending bills without committee approval.
But one taxpayer watchdog group said some projects in the spending bill, including the money for the Alabama Air Force center, are similar to earmarks, even though the bill is largely free of such provisions.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, acknowledged that the Alabama money was authorized by the Armed Services Committee, “but (Shelby) is dictating that $10 million go to this particular program.”
Shelby’s spokesman said the money is not an earmark because it was an adjustment of an existing piece of the federal budget and was developed in consultation with Air Force officials who support the center’s work.
Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said she visited the center last year and agrees the funding is necessary.
“There’s no question this program adds great value to the Air Force in terms of application security, and more resources are necessary to ensure it can function properly,” Roby said.
The center trains, equips and assists Air Force program management offices around the country on making sure their software is not vulnerable to a cyberattack. The center has assessed more than 1,000 applications and 125 million lines of code.
Virginia-based Telos Corp. is the contractor that has supported the center’s work. Before the contract with Telos expired, the company had 16 full-time employees dedicated to the center’s work, according to Renate Neely.
The U.S. House voted Wednesday evening to approve the $1.012 trillion omnibus package that finances government operations for the rest of fiscal 2014. The only Alabama members opposed were Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
The bill now heads to the Senate.