Homeland Security tech spending on the way up
President Bush and Congress have provided the Homeland Security Department millions of dollars next year for a myriad of technology-related programs to bolster security. But while Bush last week signed into law a bill approving $32 billion in spending, lawmakers also criticized some of the department's efforts to employ new technologies.
The measure is the second funding bill for the fledgling department. Since the department's creation in early 2003, lawmakers have allocated federal dollars to research and develop new devices for security, update information technology systems to share information among law enforcers, and prepare "first responders" to emergencies for another potential terrorist attack. Congress also has funded advanced technology, such as scanned fingerprints to imbed in travel documents, to increase security at air, land and seaports."This bill reflects the president's commitment to defend America by making sure the federal government and state and local first responders have the resources they need to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States," the White House said statement after Bush signed the bill.
Protection By Air, Land And Sea
Among other technology-related funds, the statute includes: $8.5 billion for border security and immigration enforcement; $5.1 billion for aviation security; $4 billion for grants to state and local emergency workers; $150 million for port security grants; $150 million for rail and transportation security grants; and $340 million to complete a biometric system to track foreign visitors entering and exiting the country.
For the entry-exit system, which is known as US-VISIT, House and Senate appropriators said they are "troubled by the security gap on the nation's borders" caused by delays in linking the US-VISIT database with criminal databases operated by the FBI. The two systems currently are incompatible because US-VISIT uses a two-fingerprint scan, while the FBI's database requires all 10 fingerprints for background searches on people.
"With implementation of a new visa-tracking system and enrollment of millions of visitors into US-VISIT, it is essential that [homeland security officials] collaborate with the FBI to ensure that [the US-VISIT system] can retrieve, in real time, biometric information contained in the [FBI] database," the law says.
The act also includes $2 billion to screen passengers and bags at airports. Of that amount, officials must spend $180 million to buy explosive-detection systems and $45 million to install them. To research and develop new transportation security devices, Congress included $178 million, and $54 million must be used to develop advanced explosive-detection devices.
For seaports, the Coast Guard would receive $982 million to upgrade its equipment, vessels and facilities. Lawmakers said the agency must use $724 million for its beleaguered Deepwater program. Officials recently told Congress the 20-year, multibillion-dollar initiative is falling behind schedule and would cost $2.2 billion more than estimated.
The program aims to integrate the Coast Guard's ships, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and computer and surveillance logistics, among other things. The Government Accountability Office said Congress would need to fund Deepwater at $795 million annually adjusted for inflation to finish it by 2022.
GAO also found that the Coast Guard's second-largest procurement program, Rescue21, has encountered delays due to software integration problems. The program would replace the agency's antiquated communications system at an estimated cost of $953 million. Lawmakers did not approve any funding for the program.
Coast Guard officials told Congress this year that they are unsure whether they will complete the program at the end of 2006 but that they do not anticipate additional costs. The system would let officials digitally call on distressed boaters, among other activities.
Lawmakers did allocate $18.5 million to research and develop advanced technology for seaport security. To pre-screen cargo at foreign seaports, lawmakers included $126 million for the Container Security Initiative (CSI). And for border security, lawmakers appropriated $64.2 million for monitoring devices.
Internal And External Technology
To combat cyber threats, the bill includes $67 million -- a $2.1 million increase over last year -- to expand activities at Homeland Security's cyber-security division. Some lawmakers have criticized the department for not spending enough resources on the issue. The division is charged with identifying, analyzing and issuing threat warnings to the public.
Congress allocated $10 million to integrate a dozen federal lists of suspected terrorists' names. The department has come under fire for not moving quickly to overcome technological and policy hurdles to consolidate lists. Law enforcement officials currently cannot access information on all the lists immediately.
The lawmakers appropriated $449 million for the customs and border security directorate to complete the upgrade of its accounting system. The department said this summer it was testing a monthly accounting program that consolidates trade transactions, account statements and payment capabilities in an effort to increase efficiency and protect against terrorism.
The program will help the directorate collect and analyze transaction data, which will be shared among more than 20 government agencies that regulate U.S. borders and the trade community. The program will be implemented by 2007. Within the directorate, the customs and immigration enforcement wing would receive $40 million to upgrade its accounting system.
Congress also provided $275 million for Homeland Security's chief information officer -- a significant increase over Bush's $226 million request. The CIO must use $208 million to invest in department-wide technology programs.
Of that funding, $91 million is for information technology services; $86 million is for department wireless devices; $13 million is for the department's computer architecture and portal technology; and $8 million is for satellite imagery. The appropriators required the CIO to spend $49 million on E-Merge, a program designed to guide department-wide investments and to integrate financial and human resources systems.
The lawmakers appropriated $1 billion for the science and technology division, which coordinates research and development of technologies and acquires existing technologies. The division must spend $593 million to develop technologies that counter threats from chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons, and high explosives, and $61 million to develop counter measures to protect commercial aircraft against shoulder-fired missiles.
Channels Of Communication
The science and technology division also will receive $11 million for SAFECOM, a wireless initiative created to ensure that firefighters and other first responders have equipment that can "talk" across jurisdictions during emergencies.
The spending bill further includes $15 million for the National Incident Management System to coordinate first responders and federal officials. First responders recently expressed concerns about federal funding for NIMS, an unrealistic deadline, poor access to training, the lack of a well-defined model for an interdisciplinary emergency system, and the ability of responders' equipment to communicate across jurisdictions.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last month outlined minimum requirements each state must meet by 2006. After 2007, states would only receive federal grant funding if they have met the implementation requirements.
Finally, to better exchange information about flood hazards, the department is spending $200 million to update the flood-mapping system. Michael Brown, Homeland Security's undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response, told Congress this year that "more than two-thirds of the maps are more than 10 years old."
The information, which is used by communities, lenders, insurance agents and others, also is incompatible with geographic information system technology, he said. The modernization program would enable the exchange of flood-hazard data through the Internet.