Homeland Security officials defend 2008 budget plans

Officials from the Homeland Security Department Tuesday defended their fiscal 2008 budget and plans for cybersecurity and protecting critical infrastructure, even as Government Accountability Office officials said the department faces challenges in emergency preparedness.

At a House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Chairman David Price, D-N.C., raised concerns about the department's budget for the new National Protection and Programs Division, which will incorporate infrastructure protection, cybersecurity, risk management and the office for US-VISIT, the system created to track foreign travelers entering and leaving the United States.

The budget request for Protection and Programs Division is $1.05 billion, $106 million more than for fiscal 2007. But $100 million of the increase is for the US-VISIT office.

Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., echoed Price's concerns, saying, "Vision without funding is a hallucination."

Part of the division's budget request is $25.2 million for a new office to oversee chemical site security. The office would establish different levels of security standards for sites deemed more at risk than others.

Panel members expressed fears that department standards would override any stricter state and local regulations. Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection Robert Stephan assured the committee it would not be a "one-size-fits-all" rule.

At the hearing, GAO officials also emphasized the ongoing need for private and public sector cooperation in responding to emergencies. "Hurricane Katrina showed that we had not made progress," said Eileen Larence, GAO's director of homeland security and justice issues.

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