White House unveils details of homeland security budget boost

Even though it doesn't yet have a national strategy for homeland security, the White House is seeking to double spending on homeland defense programs in 2003. The Bush administration has requested $37.7 billion for civilian agencies involved in border protection and bioterrorism research and response. Spending on such programs this year is expected to total $19 billion.

Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, said Monday that the national strategy for homeland security isn't likely to be completed until this summer. So the 2003 budget does not reflect the administration's full homeland security agenda, but only the initial investment, he said. The full agenda will be reflected in the 2004 budget.

Included in the $37.7 billion request is $3.5 billion-a tenfold increase in federal support-to provide training and equipment for local firefighters, police and health officials most likely to respond first to acts of terrorism. State and local officials have widely criticized such efforts in the past, saying federal anti-terrorism programs were duplicative, poorly organized and micromanaged.

In an effort to better support first responders, the administration has proposed moving the Office of Domestic Preparedness from the Justice Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is supposed to create a "streamlined and simple procedure to speed the flow of resources" to state and local officials.

The shift is the only organizational change Ridge's office has recommended so far. Other changes are likely to follow later in the year, he said.

The 2003 budget request focuses on four general areas: supporting first responders, defending against bioterrorism, securing land and sea borders, and using new technology to improve security.

Among the budget highlights:

  • Funding to state and local emergency responders will be focused on helping officials plan for terrorist attacks, providing them with needed equipment and training, and conducting exercises to validate that training. In addition, FEMA will establish a process for evaluating local response capabilities and directing future resources as needed.
  • Funding for defense against biological terrorism will increase by more than 300 percent, to $5.9 billion. The money will be used to strengthen state and local public health systems by improving communications and disease surveillance capabilities; increasing the capacity of the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile; developing better methods for decontaminating buildings where biological agents have been released; and developing new vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tests through an aggressive research and development program.
  • Spending on border security programs will increase to $11 billion in 2003, more than $2 billion over 2002 funding. Under the budget proposal, Customs would hire 800 new inspectors and agents to improve security at seaports and land borders and invest in new technology aimed at inspecting commercial shipments. The Immigration and Naturalization Service would double the number of border patrol agents and inspectors on the northern border, upgrade communications technology for INS personnel and implement a new entry-exit tracking system to monitor the arrival and departure of non-U.S. citizens. The Coast Guard would develop better tracking mechanisms for monitoring all vessels in U.S. ports and coastal areas and improve protection of high-risk vessels and coastal facilities, such as nuclear power plants and oil refineries.
  • The budget includes funding to develop a plan to use information technology to share data more effectively and efficiently among agencies and among federal, state and local governments. In addition, the budget requests $60 million to develop a wireless priority access program that would give authorized users priority on the nation's cellular network during emergencies.
  • The budget also would allow the FBI to add more than 300 special agents and other investigative staff to conduct surveillance of terrorists and 130 special agents to combat cybercrime and protect critical information systems from disruption by terrorists. It would also provide for an additional 25 Drug Enforcement Agency financial crime investigators to focus on shutting down terrorist cells' sources of money.
The Bush administration's budget priorities for homeland security reflect the thinking of a number of recent commissions that have considered the nation's vulnerability to terrorism, Ridge said. The homeland security strategy, when it is developed, will be integrated into the National Security Strategy, he said.
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