Key lawmaker hints at border, port spending plans

The head of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee said on Tuesday that he is looking at using part of $1.8 billion in new border funding to bolster other Homeland Security Department accounts, such as the Coast Guard, but probably will not provide as much funding for port security grants as lawmakers have authorized.

The Senate has approved a plan to add $1.8 billion for border security to the pending fiscal 2007 Homeland Security spending bill. The funding was primarily intended for border fencing.

But Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said part of the new money also would be put toward the Coast Guard. "We're going to use it to aggressively improve border security, which will include not only fencing but other things that are needed in border security," he said.

Gregg declined to specify other accounts that might receive more funding.

The House last week approved a plan to build 700 more miles of fencing along the Mexican border. One industry official observed, however, that Homeland Security probably would not be able to use all of the $1.8 billion for fencing in 2007, meaning that some of the money could be used for other accounts.

Gregg emphasized that port security is a top priority in the funding bill. "I think we'll have a very robust port security program in this bill," he said.

He expressed doubt, however, that appropriators would provide $400 million, which was the level sought by both House and Senate authorizers in their port security budgets.

"I'm not sure we'll go that high," Gregg said. "Why should we? We've already put a lot of money in there, [and] they can't spend what they got."

But Gregg did not rule out that appropriators might provide additional money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "I think we'll have to wait and see," he said.

House and Senate negotiators last week announced an agreement to overhaul FEMA, including authorizing hundreds of millions of dollars more that they say is needed to fix glaring problems in emergency management. The overhaul plan is expected to be included in the spending bill because it is one of the last must-pass pieces of legislation before the November election.

Gregg also said appropriators have "serious issues" with the Homeland Security science and technology directorate. Even though the directorate includes accounts like explosives countermeasures and technology for liquid-explosives detection, Gregg did not indicate that funding would be increased.

Instead, he said appropriators will place "significant limitations" on the directorate to ensure that its funding is properly spent.

He said the department's move to put retired Navy Rear Adm. Jay Cohen in charge of the directorate is "a huge step in the right direction" but added that "the jury remains out on that directorate."

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