Homeland Security seeks to bolster management, border security

The White House is requesting $50.5 billion to fund the Homeland Security Department in 2009, a 62 percent increase in funding from when the department was created just five years ago. The increase reflects the department's continued focus on border and aviation security as well as its tremendous purchasing power -- much of the funding is for high-profile acquisition programs, such as the Coast Guard's Deepwater recapitalization program and the Secure Border Initiative.

But the 2009 budget request also reflects a certain organizational maturity that has occurred over the last five years. For example, the department is seeking $1.65 million to conduct the first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, modeled after the Defense Department's process for reassessing its structure and capabilities in light of emerging threats.

"We face a patient enemy," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, at a briefing for reporters on Monday. "We face a challenge to the homeland that is not going to evaporate in a couple of years. Developing a Quadrennial Homeland Security Review will give us the long-term vision that allows us to plan and manage this risk far into the future."

Homeland Security also is asking for more money to bolster auditing staff in the Office of the Inspector General to improve oversight of preparedness programs ($6.4 million); consolidate financial management systems in the Office of the Chief Financial Management Officer to improve financial management ($15.5 million); and enhance the acquisition intern program in the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer ($3.1 million).

"I'm constantly reminded by Congress of the fact that there's concern about our overreliance on contractors to manage contractors," Chertoff said. "It's a fair point, but there's only one corrective -- you've got to hire government employees to manage those contractors," he said. "We need to have the money to hire those people. Continually trying to punish us by cutting our management budget in order to induce us to hire more people is literally working at cross purposes." He also said he would push Congress to approve the department's $120 million request to consolidate senior management activities at St. Elizabeth's campus in Washington. Such functions now exist in about 40 locations and 70 buildings throughout the national capital region.

Congress previously rejected Homeland Security's proposal to consolidate operations at St. Elizabeth's, but Chertoff said he is optimistic it will pass this year.

Lawmakers already are objecting to some of the department's requests. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the department's funding request for $2.2 billion in grants to state and local first responders was "grossly inadequate" and represented a 48 percent cut over funding for those programs in 2008. (Homeland Security's funding request essentially remained flat; Congress essentially doubled those programs in the department's 2008 budget).

The administration's 2009 DHS budget proposal calls for a 79 percent cut in the largest state homeland security grant program, a 60 percent cut to firefighters, a 56 percent decrease in transit security grants, and a 48 percent reduction to port security grants. "These deep cuts send exactly the wrong message that we can now relax and stand down," Lieberman said.

Lieberman also questioned a proposed $7 million cut to DHS' Office of Inspector General. Last year, the office was funded at $109 million, with a staff of 551; in 2009, the department is asking for $101 million and a staff of 577. It's not clear how the office would function with more people and a smaller budget.

As with previous budgets, the largest share of funding would go to Customs and Border Protection (22 percent), followed by the Coast Guard (19 percent), the Transportation Security Administration (14 percent) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (13 percent).

The agency organized its funding request according to five priorities, Chertoff said: protecting the nation from dangerous people; protecting the nation from dangerous goods; protecting critical infrastructure; improving emergency response capability and strengthening management. Some highlights include:

  • An increase in $442.4 million to hire, train and equip 2,200 new Border Patrol agents;
  • $140 million for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative aimed at identifying travelers at ports of entry;
  • $100 million for E-Verify, the employment-eligibility verification program;
  • $10 million to improve border security law enforcement training;
  • $1.3 billion for departmentwide efforts to counter improvised explosive devices ($1.1 billion of this would fund explosive detection technology at airports);
  • An increase of $34.5 million to develop better biological agent detection sensors;
  • $64.5 million to support a workforce improvement program at FEMA.
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