Dems weigh adding Homeland Security funds to stimulus

The economic stimulus package under consideration by key Democrats could include funding for the Homeland Security Department -- possibly as much as $2 billion, congressional and industry sources said on Thursday.

Talk has surfaced about the inclusion of hundreds of millions of dollars for Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, sources said. Funding could be sought to help states comply with the so-called Real ID law, which requires them to issue secure driver's licenses to their citizens.

The push for the funding appeared to be coming from both lawmakers and the homeland security industry.

"Everything's in play," one source said.

But aides for the Senate and House Appropriations committees could not confirm specific homeland security efforts that might be included in the stimulus and sources cautioned that nothing has been decided.

Sources pointed to an economic stimulus bill proposed by former Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., in November as a blueprint, which sought to provide more than $2 billion for Homeland Security agencies.

Funding in the bill included $500 million for TSA to buy and install explosives detection equipment, about $300 million for the Coast Guard and another $300 million for border security, especially to expedite the deployment of technology to the southwest border. The bill called for another $100 million to improve infrastructure at the nation's ports of entry and about $350 million to consolidate the Homeland Security Department headquarters in Washington. An industry source said it is likely that the stimulus bill will include funding to improve ports of entry and for TSA baggage-screening operations. Another source added that other infrastructure improvements in the bill, such as for bridges, could include security measures, such as video cameras or perimeter protections.

"It's a great opportunity now. Security was an afterthought before. Now you have the opportunity to do those things up front," the source said.

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