Key lawmaker calls Homeland Security budget request 'inadequate'

A top House Democratic appropriator on Thursday called the Homeland Security Department's proposed fiscal 2008 budget "simply inadequate" to address the nation's needs, especially when it comes to funding for first responders.

"I am not saying that the department's troubles can be solved simply by throwing more money at them," Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., told Homeland Security Michael Chertoff during a hearing. "As things currently stand, however, there are a number of areas of your proposed budget that are simply inadequate."

Price said he is "not at all confident" the budget would address priorities such as modernizing Coast Guard vessels, identifying foreign visitors who come into the country legally but stay illegally and rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Price added that he is "particularly concerned" the budget would cut grant programs for first responders by $1.2 billion.

"I must say a lot of pressure is being put on you and on us by virtue of the administration's decision to defund these [grant] programs," Price told Chertoff.

Chertoff said he believes the budget request is "sound" and "ample." Regarding grants, department officials claim the agency is requesting roughly the same level of funding for fiscal 2008 as it did for fiscal 2007.

But compared to enacted fiscal 2007 levels, funding for state homeland security grants would fall from $510 million to $250 million, grant assistance to firefighters would be cut from $662 million to $300 million, and law enforcement terrorism prevention program grants would drop from $363 million to $262 million.

Funding for the urban areas security initiative grant program, however, would increase from $770 million to $800 million. Department officials note that a new grant program will be created this year to provide state and local agencies with $1 billion in funding for interoperable communications equipment. By law, that program has to be created by September.

Chertoff also said state and local agencies still have not spent about $5 billion in grants from previous years.

Price said the new $1 billion grant program "may or may not" offset "drastic cuts" in existing grant programs. He said the department only has about seven months to get the program in place and develop guidelines for state and local governments to apply for the funding.

"This subcommittee heard from many expert witnesses over the past week who spoke to the need for greater support from the federal government for state and local police and other first responders, including the critical need to ensure the interoperability of communications," Price said.

Chertoff acknowledged that "it will be challenging to get this money out this year," adding that he might have to ask Congress for a deadline extension.

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