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Senate aide sees bipartisanship on security 'fraying'

The senior aide on appropriations issues for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., on Monday voiced concern that funding disputes are straining bipartisan relations on homeland security issues.

Bill Hoagland, the director of budget and appropriations in the majority leader's office, told a gathering of security contractors that the bipartisanship Republicans thought they had achieved on security appropriations "appears to be fraying." He cited comments by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., on Friday that states and localities have not received any funding yet.

"There is a tension heavily associated with funding," Hoagland said after his speech to an Equity International event on homeland security financing. He said that despite progress in the past year, he can "still sense an uneasiness out there about whether we have accomplished our goal of securing the homeland."

Hoagland said he has not seen the fiscal 2004 budget request from the president due Feb. 3 but expects a proposed increase in federal security spending. For non-defense spending on homeland security, he said he expects a 7 percent to 8 percent increase over the fiscal 2003 level.

The aide said he does not believe that President Bush is reneging on his promise to Congress that a new Homeland Security Department would not cost taxpayers additional money. "I think there are substantial needs," Hoagland said, adding that the president "has put this as a high priority" and is supported by Frist, R-Tenn., and others.

For fiscal 2004, security priorities are expected to include: enhancing FBI capabilities; adding capabilities in the Homeland Security Department directorate focused on critical infrastructure and data analysis; creating "smart borders;" increasing the security of shipping containers; improving sensors for detecting nuclear threats; developing better vaccines and antidotes to bioterrorism; and integrating information sharing across federal, state and local governments.

For fiscal 2003, Hoagland said a Senate-House conference on the omnibus spending bill that includes security money should begin Tuesday. However, he expects that Congress will need to clear another stopgap spending bill funding the government at fiscal 2002 levels until lawmakers complete work on the longer-term measure. The current stopgap legislation expires Friday.

Hoagland said both sides hope to complete work on the omnibus appropriations bill by Feb. 14. That measure includes 11 of the government's 13 appropriations bills. Congress has a scheduled weeklong recess beginning Feb. 14.

Hoagland said it is very difficult to determine precisely the final fiscal 2003 spending levels for homeland security but predicted it would be about $37 billion, roughly equivalent to fiscal 2002. Only about two-thirds of the spending goes to the department; the rest goes to the Defense, State and Justice departments, and elsewhere.

Hoagland noted that $36 billion is less than 2 percent of all federal expenditures and about 8 percent of voluntary annual appropriations. In that category, it competes with items like federal highways, veterans' benefits and funding for the National Institutes of Health.