House Republicans and Homeland Security officials sounded alarm bells Wednesday about the prospect of the Homeland Security Department operating under a continuing resolution in the new fiscal year, citing the impact that such a move would have on several programs.
"If an appropriations bill is not passed and DHS is forced to operate under a continuing resolution, the folks at the department might not have all the resources they need to fulfill their critical mission," House Homeland Security Management Subcommittee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said during a hearing.
Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., lobbed the harshest criticism, saying that "Democrats in Congress aren't keeping up their end of the bargain."
"Without an appropriations bill, DHS can't move forward on plans for the border, new cybersecurity programs, grants for states and locals [and] the list goes on," King said in a statement. "It's unacceptable to have DHS in a holding pattern just because Democrats can't get their act together."
During the hearing, Rogers asked Richard Gunderson, the department's deputy chief procurement officer, how the department would be affected if its fiscal 2009 appropriations bill was delayed.
"It would impact in a couple of ways," Gunderson said. "From an operational, programmatic standpoint, there would be no new starts that we would be able to move forward on."
"It would slow down, possibly, some of the program initiatives," he added. "It would increase the workload for the staff because you would have to be in some cases doing multiple administrative actions."
Gunderson added that the fiscal 2009 budget request includes funding to improve the department's acquisition program management division and bring on interns studying to become acquisition experts.
"A CR would stop those programs in their tracks and we would not be able to grow the way that everybody is saying that we need to grow," Gunderson said.
James Taylor, the department's deputy inspector general, said at the hearing that a continuing resolution is "extremely distracting" for any agency.
"But in the case of DHS, where the Congress has been increasing the budget and increasing the activities on an annual basis ... it would obviously hinder their efforts to improve," Taylor said.
But after the hearing, the department was unable to provide a list of specific programs that could not be started or would be seriously disrupted if the department has to operate under a CR.
One official said the department is exchanging information and lists of programs with the Office of Management and Budget and congressional appropriators, but the exact impact would depend on how the continuing resolution was written. He said the "draft working documents" are not available to the public.
The only effort the official could cite that might be affected is the department's ability to begin construction on a new headquarters facility in Washington, D.C.
During the hearing, Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., also asserted that the department has wasted almost $15 billion on failed programs.
"Some, and I emphasize some, of the department's programs have been plagued with a litany of contract problems," Thompson said.
"Some of these programs were cancelled due to contract failures, while others produced some results but never came close to fulfilling their proposed original intention," he added. "These panned contracts cost substantially more than their original budgets."
Gunderson disputed Thompson. "Frankly, to portray some of these contracts and programs as wasteful; I don't agree with that," he said.
"Well, we differ," Thompson shot back.