Bush aide envisions streamlined review of security products

Companies with homeland security products to offer the government will have one place to shop their wares with the expected establishment of the proposed Homeland Security Department in the next few months, a top White House aide said on Monday.

Mark Holman, deputy assistant to the president for homeland security, said the department would have a secretary of management and procurement who could make quick decisions about new homeland security products, a task that the White House Office of Homeland Security cannot achieve because it is not a procurement agency.

"Thank you for your patience," Holman told a crowd gathered at a homeland security financing briefing hosted by Equity International. "The Office of Homeland Security in the White House is a policymaking group and ... the 125-member staff has talked to hundreds of companies over the past year and we've done the best we could. ... Now there will be one place to go, one department."

The amount of money that will be made available to purchase products, however, remains unclear. Holman said that at least $500 million is to be allocated to a new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency and that a "starting point" for the size of the department is about $40 billion.

Scott Lilly, minority director of the House Appropriations Committee, however, said he is unsure that the White House is asking Congress for enough money to properly fund a comprehensive homeland security strategy. For example, Congress allocated $3.5 billion to help emergency responders in the states, but a dispute with the White House resulted in only $500 million being allocated. Lilly said President Bush has not requested the rest of that money for fiscal 2003.

"I'm concerned we aren't doing very well" in the fight against terrorism because of the funding levels on homeland security, Lilly said at the conference.

Bill Hoagland, staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, also expressed concern about the current level of funding for emergency responders, and he said not enough money has been spent on efforts to prevent bioterrorism.

Hoagland cautioned, however, that the nation's resources are not infinite and that even without potential spending on war with Iraq and a prescription-drug benefit, and without the lost revenue from tax cuts in a possible economic stimulus package, the budget is headed for a deficit of $180 billion to $200 billion in fiscal 2003, up from $160 billion in fiscal 2002.

"With the return of deficits and looming budget pressures with the aging population, we are going to have to be clear about how we define homeland security and what we will give up to fund it," Hoagland said.

He said the chief financial officer of the Homeland Security Department would have "one of the hardest jobs ever" in managing the department's costs because its mission will go beyond homeland security to areas like immigration services. He estimated that the department would be funded at about $37 billion in fiscal 2003.