Analysts worry budget short on Homeland Security funds

In the weary voice of experience, James W. Ziglar, who last year stepped down as commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, predicts that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge will find that his new department's budget for fiscal 2004 isn't nearly large enough to let him achieve the goals Congress has set.

"One of the major, major challenges-and, in the end, the one that's going to make the difference-is the resource challenge," warned Ziglar, who's now an informal adviser to Ridge.

On hearing of Ziglar's comment, Ridge responded, "I don't necessarily share his view." As he prepared to roll out his second homeland security budget-weighing in at $41.3 billion-Ridge cited the two-year doubling of that budget, his ability to shift money around within his new Department of Homeland Security, and the savings he expects to gain from merging a host of agencies. "As we set up the department, we've got sufficient financial support to do it," Ridge insisted.

But Ziglar has crunched numbers that Ridge hasn't. Ziglar, a former managing director of PaineWebber, last year asked one of his Wall Street buddies to figure out what it would cost for the INS to meet all of its congressional mandates. The bottom line, Ziglar recalls, was "absolutely astounding." He wouldn't disclose the exact results but said that, by his calculations, the 2010 INS budget would need to be "six to seven times" higher than its 2002 budget. To meet just one of Congress's demands, the INS, now part of Ridge's department, would need to quadruple the number of Border Patrol agents. Ziglar says efficiency and flexibility are terrific, but they will get Ridge, at most, a 20 percent productivity boost.

What would the Homeland Security price tag be if it included the congressional mandates for all 22 agencies now under the new department's tent? No one at the Homeland Security Department has a real clue.

"We haven't tried to do that, because we're going forward," said one Homeland budget official. The Bush administration's fiscal 2004 homeland security budget numbers are based on its 2003 budget plus priorities set out in July 2002 in the "National Strategy for Homeland Security." Its fiscal 2003 budget was based on nothing much more than intuition.

The funding request for 2003 was assembled in the fall of 2001, during Ridge's first six weeks as the president's homeland security adviser. Ridge and a top policy aide, Richard Falkenrath, plucked four priorities from a list of a dozen, choosing-Falkenrath recalls-largely on "gut instinct."

This year, Ridge is directing media attention to the $41.3 billion requested for fiscal 2004 for homeland security efforts both inside and outside his department, including at the Defense Department. (The budget request for the actual Homeland Security Department jumped 7.4 percent for 2004, to $36.2 billion.) Ridge declared that the $41.3 billion request is "the highest total ever proposed by any administration for homeland security." That's less than 1 percent higher than the $41 billion in spending projected for 2003. Comparing those overall figures might be a bit misleading, however: The new budget earmarks $2.2 billion more than in 2003 for non-DoD homeland security efforts.

And when Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. unveiled the administration's overall budget, he highlighted non-Defense Department homeland security, which he hailed as "the highest priority in this budget," and noted the nearly 8 percent increase in funding to $34.6 billion.

Yet this year's homeland security numbers left some analysts wondering why they aren't higher. "If you count inflation, that's a decrease. That $41.3 billion today is probably a 1 or 2 percent decrease overall in real program growth," said Frank Hoffman, a former top aide to the Hart-Rudman commission on terrorism. "There's no sense of urgency."

Hoffman complains that Ridge hasn't articulated a strategic vision for his department or explained how his budget will achieve the goal of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. He is also bothered by what he sees as the Bush administration's failure to meaningfully weave homeland security concerns into its national security strategy. As a result, Hoffman said, the White House has no way to assess the country's homeland security needs.

"It's not clear to Mitch Daniels what Ridge's linkage is to the big picture," Hoffman contended. "We end up with Mitch Daniels doing this in a strategic phone booth."