Frustrated lawmakers found Thursday that many homeland security programs that they would like to see receive more funding are not moving forward because they are under review by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
DHS also is conducting a general review, known as the Bottom-Up Review (BUR), on how to best align its resources with the strategic goals outlined in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR), which was published Feb. 1.
During a hearing on the fiscal 2011 DHS budget, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that Congress should receive the BUR sometime between late March and mid-April.
Officials intend for the highly anticipated BUR to direct where DHS must spend its money for a four-year cycle from fiscal 2012-2016.
Napolitano made it clear, however, that several other efforts were not going forward because of pending reviews of their effectiveness.
The secretary reiterated her opinion that DHS cannot implement 100 percent screening of US-bound cargo traveling through seaports by 2012, as mandated in the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission (Public Law 110-053).
The proclamation raised the ire of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, who noted that the fiscal 2011 budget would reduce funding to scan maritime cargo by 48 percent.
But Napolitano insisted that the money requested for the Container Security Initiative reflect an appropriate amount of funding to screen high-risk cargo using advanced technology and techniques.
"I looked at it independently of my predecessor but my assessment has turned out to be the same as his. The 100 percent requirement is not achievable by 2012," Napolitano asserted.
She offered to work with the committee to review alternatives and to make statutory changes in the program going forward, noting that DHS and Congress know "more than we did when the 100 percent screening mandate was developed."
While DHS cannot screen 100 percent of sea-bound cargo, air-bound cargo is a different matter, Napolitano stated. Although DHS will miss an August 4 deadline under the 9/11 Commission Act to screen all US-bound cargo arriving via air, the department will do so by the end of the calendar year, she said.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) inquired whether DHS is reassessingsecurity for general aviation airfields after a suicide attack against the IRS by disgruntled software engineer Joseph Stack last week.
Napolitano acknowledged that DHS had amended a proposed aviation security rule in response to concerns from the general aviation community.
But in light of the attack, Napolitano ordered a fresh look at the rule.
"I have asked that we take another look at the rule in light of what happened just to make sure that we are making the right decisions as to what security measures should be in place for what size of aircraft," she testified.
Under questioning from Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), Napolitano indicated that funding for the electronic fence initiative under the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) along the US southern border was cut because DHS is reviewing the program.
SBInet "has been plagued with troubles from day one," Napolitano stated. It has never met a deadline and never produced any operational capabilities.
As such, it would be irresponsible to recommend duplicating the system, currently being set up along the international border of Arizona, across the southwest at this point, she argued.
Money requested for technology in the fiscal 2011 DHS budget would go toward purchasing proven technology such as mobile surveillance scanners, which are easily maintained and add value to the mission of the US Border Patrol, Napolitano explained.
The department will continue to review SBInet and share its recommendations with the committee, she added.
At present, DHS finds SBInet to be a large program made up of cell towers that are difficult to deploy across the varied geography of the southern border, the secretary said.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) pressed Napolitano on more money for the Securing the Cities program, which placed radiation detectors in US cities–primarily New York City.
"I believe it’s absolutely essential," King remarked. "If we look at Madrid and we look at London, it’s likely the next attack will be in an urban area."
The fiscal 2011 budget contains no money for Securing the Cities because it was a three-year pilot program that has expired, Napolitano responded.
"I recognize that New York City and the area around it is a target," Napolitano said. "It receives hundreds of millions in various programs because of that. Securing the Cities was one small program."
DHS intended for New York to continue to use funds from other programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) if it wanted to continue deploying radiation detectors.
But at the conclusion of technology deployment from the pilot, DHS must conduct independent assessments to determine if the technology is effective compared to other options, Napolitano said.
Such assessments add value to any decision-making going forward, she added.