Homeland Security budget generous to Customs, Border agency

The Homeland Security Department is requesting about $37.7 billion in total discretionary spending for the next fiscal year, which is about $2.7 billion more than Congress approved for the department's current budget.

But Congress also gave Homeland Security an additional $1.8 billion in emergency supplemental spending for border security during this fiscal year, which means the proposed fiscal 2008 increase is not much more than the total amount the department is spending in fiscal 2007.

Nonetheless, all the department's major agencies would see an increase in discretionary spending. "This budget will ensure that the department has the tools and resources we need to protect the country," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said during a news conference Monday.

Customs and Border Protection, which secures the nation's borders, would get the largest single increase in discretionary money. Funding would increase by about $2.3 billion over current enacted levels to about $8.8 billion.

The budget request would allow the department to hire 3,000 new Border Patrol agents -- bringing the total number of agents to almost 18,000 -- and provide $1 billion to install technology and tactical infrastructure along the nation's borders.

The discretionary funding sought for other major Homeland Security components includes: $7.2 billion for the Coast Guard; $6.4 billion for the Transportation Security Administration; $4.8 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and $3 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The budget also provides $3.2 billion in grants to state and local governments, with $2.2 billion provided through existing grant programs and $1 billion to help state and local governments buy interoperable communications equipment.

The department expects that funding to come from a sale of radio spectrum this fall. The program to administer the funding will be run jointly by the Homeland Security and Commerce departments.

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