Congress slows Bush effort on nuclear detection office
House and Senate appropriators recently cut $100 million from President Bush's request to build a domestic nuclear detection office next year within the Homeland Security Department, according to committee reports on the department's fiscal 2006 spending measure. They contend Bush needs to clearly justify the initiative, an administration priority, before they would fully support it.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a House Government Reform Committee earlier this month that a "very, very high priority" is to prevent nuclear material from being smuggled across U.S. borders. That is why, Chertoff added, Bush asked Congress to give the department $227 million to build the nuclear detection office. The department would work with the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and other intelligence officials to consolidate the government's efforts under one roof.
While lawmakers say they support the idea of the office, they are concerned about the Homeland Security Department's authority over the other agencies and say the request might be excessive.
The House Homeland Security Committee approved $32 million less in the reauthorization measure than Bush requested for the nuclear detection office. The panel argued that the department lacks a strategy, has overemphasized the need for detection technology and believes officials could not spend Bush's full request in the first year. The panel noted that the authorized amount still is $70 million over last year's funding for similar programs. About detection technology, the lawmakers said the department has devoted more resources to detecting devices rather than on ways to find weapons before they reach the U.S. border.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., in a letter Friday to Chertoff, criticized his decision in April to place the detection office within the secretary's office rather than in the department's science and technology division, arguing the move would duplicate research efforts.
"The administration has provided insufficient justification for a second research and development organization to coordinate, direct, and fund research and development related to radiological and nuclear detection and has not demonstrated that the existing offices of the S&T cannot continue to perform these tasks," wrote Lieberman.
Senate appropriators went further to limit Chertoff's clout over the office, prohibiting the department from hiring a contractor to do the work. The department in April solicited companies to perform engineering services at the detection office. The contract was for $50 million to $75 million over the next five years.