House aims to refocus agency's counterterrorism role

Spending bill would cut the DHS information analysis and infrastructure protection directorate budget by $5.8 million.

The House has cut funding for the Homeland Security Department's intelligence wing as part of a bureaucratic overhaul that would result in diminishing the department's role in counterterrorism.

The fiscal 2006 House Homeland Security spending bill, approved last month, would cut $5.8 million from the information analysis and infrastructure protection division's account to hire additional intelligence officials this year, according to the Appropriations Committee's report.

The lawmakers argued that IAIP "has seen the scope of its national intelligence mission reduced" after Congress late last year created a National Counterterrorism Center and Terrorist Screening Center. The legislation -- a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission -- aims to increase information sharing across the 15 federal agencies that gather intelligence. The Senate has yet to take up its spending measure.

In 2002, Congress created the Homeland Security Department and placed the secretary in charge of information-sharing systems for homeland security information, specifically authorizing the secretary to implement programs that would allow relevant federal agencies to share intelligence with appropriate federal, state and local officials.

But under the intelligence overhaul law of last year, lawmakers gave the responsibility for intelligence sharing to the national intelligence director.

"The committee feels it would be imprudent to continue to add personnel until a review of the future mission for IAIP and reconciliation of these contradictory authorizations is completed," the report said.

The measure instructs the department to issue a report on IAIP's future role by January. The House Homeland Security Committee, which recently was at odds with the Appropriations panel, authorized IAIP next year to offer recruitment bonuses of up to 50 percent of annual pay to hire highly trained personnel.

House appropriators also decreased funding from last year's levels for IAIP to evaluate security measures to protect critical infrastructure. The department has identified 14 sectors such as transportation, banking and telecommunications assets that require increased security. IAIP partners with the private sector, which owns an estimated 85 percent of the critical assets. The panel provided $663 million for the activities -- $6 million below President Bush's request and $98 million below last year's allocation.

IAIP also runs the department's around-the-clock operations center. As the nation's "primary hub for operational communications, informational sharing and situational awareness," the panel allocated $56 million for next year. That amount is $5 million below Bush's budget proposal and $21 million above fiscal 2005. The operations center employs a network to communicate across federal agencies and with state and local officials as well as the private sector. Lawmakers wrote that the department would use the increase in funding in fiscal 2006 to connect all county governments to the network. The department connected all the major urban areas last year.