President Biden released his annual budget request on March 9. Given Republican House control, final appropriations are likely to look very different from this request. However, the president’s budget typically serves as a strong indicator of the administration’s priorities. Unfortunately, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 DHS budget request does not prioritize Homeland Security.
DHS is one of only two executive departments with proposed decreased funding in FY 2024. The president’s budget proposes a 1 percent decline in DHS funding, which is actually a much more significant reduction. The proposal does not keep pace with inflation and shifts funding from base programs to infrastructure investments.
This is the administration’s third budget request to Congress and continues to prioritize additional investment for cybersecurity, improvements to customer experience, and infrastructure resilience. Operational staffing emerges as a new funding priority in 2024. These increases are offset by over $2 billion in fee increases and decreases to immigration enforcement and federal assistance grant programs.
Decreased funding is not the only hurdle facing DHS. Highly politicized debate over DHS mission priorities, ongoing legislative challenges, and the continued reliance on continuing resolutions (CRs) are barriers that make it difficult for DHS to execute its vast mission to protect our nation. At a time of increasing and more diverse threats, DHS must be adequately resourced with a clear and coordinated strategy that focuses on the mission rather than politics.
On March 2, the Biden administration released the National Cybersecurity Strategy with the objective to rebalance the responsibility to secure cyberspace away from individuals, small businesses, and local government to strategic organizations (e.g., software developers) that are most capable of reducing cyber risk, as well as realign incentives for cybersecurity investments by weighing strategic long-term planning against urgent threats. Read more of our analysis on this topic.
This administration has consistently requested increased funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The trend to prioritize cybersecurity continues with the FY 2024 request. It includes an additional $144 million for a total of $3.1 billion dedicated to cybersecurity and infrastructure security at CISA. There is $98 million in new funding provided to implement the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act (CIRCIA) and $425 million for the new Cyber Analytics Data System, which provides advanced analytic capabilities to CISA’s cyber operators.
Customer experience continues to be a priority across the federal government, with a mandate of streamlining government processes to center on the customer’s ability to navigate critical services. DHS announced customer experience improvements across the department in December 2022. These changes included acceptance of mobile driver’s licenses in certain states, simplified policies across the department, and reduced paperwork for the public. The FY 2024 request includes $6 million to stand up a Customer Service Experience (CX) Office tasked with streamlining forms and coordinating an enterprise Voice of the Customer approach. An additional $612 million of appropriate funding is requested for the predominantly fee-funded U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to decrease backlog and accelerate application processing. Additional funding is also proposed for both the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve customer service.
The administration has focused on infrastructure improvements to secure the electric grids, public transit, highways, etc., against not only malicious actors but also the increasing threat of global warming. This year, the Biden administration has requested additional infrastructure investments for DHS, with a particular focus on climate resilience. A few highlights include:
- A $400 million increase in FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund Majors Allocation for community climate-resilience projects;
- An additional $91 million to continue investment for Zero-Emission Vehicles and charging infrastructure; and
- $273 million of additional funding for acquisition and sustainment related to Coast Guard cutters and boats.
Border Security and Immigration
The administration proposes increases for border security technology to include an additional $218 million for Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems and $160 million for Integrated Surveillance Towers. However, the budget requests significant decreases related to immigration enforcement including a $555 million decrease for adult detention capacity and $97 million reduction to the Alternatives to Detention program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The administration proposes a new $4.7 billion contingency fund that would only be available to address surges in migration. Funds would be transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FEMA, and ICE, but it is unclear what organization would manage the fund.
New Investment in FY 2024
Workforce investment is highlighted throughout the DHS request. Additional funding is requested for operational staffing to include additional full-time equivalents (FTE) positions at TSA (+1,413), CBP (+2,816), ICE (+1,090), USCIS (+2,319) and the U.S. Secret Service (+140). An additional $1.1 billion is included in the budget for TSA employees to be paid commensurate with the General Schedule pay scale. TSA increases are offset by an additional $1.6 billion requested for TSA Passenger Security Fees.
The FY 2024 requests also proposes additional investments in biodefense to address biological threats. The request includes an $18 million increase for the BioWatch program to support an adaptive approach to environmental bio-detection, targeting areas of highest national security risk. Additional investment is also proposed for Probabilistic Analysis of National Threats Hazards and Risks (PANTHR), which functions as both the internal information archive and centralized source for disseminating chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive hazard information.
USG-Wide Challenges for the Budget Request
There are USG-wide procedural issues that stand in the way of the president having his DHS budget request enacted. The largest political fight is over raising the debt ceiling, which will overshadow the budget going into the summer. Republicans have stated that they are not interested in raising the debt ceiling without significant budget cuts. As most of the federal budget is composed of mandatory spending, and over half of discretionary spending is (typically) allocated to defense spending, there will likely be a cut in discretionary spending if no deal is reached to raise the debt ceiling.
Delays in resource availability hinder DHS’ ability to operate effectively. The president’s budget is consistently submitted late, on top of a political divide that will likely require another year of continuing resolutions. The Republican-controlled House has already declared the budget a “non-starter” and it is guaranteed that the budget will not pass as-is. Because this is a persistent issue, the president’s budget has become less of an opportunity to find compromise with the legislative branch on key mission areas, and more of a political statement.
DHS faces additional unique challenges when it comes to securing appropriations. DHS does not receive an annual authorization like the Department of Defense (DOD). As a result, the appropriations process becomes a debate on policy as well as funding. Additionally, DHS is subject to a complicated congressional oversight structure, with several committees in both the House and Senate having partial jurisdiction, leading to a slew of differing priorities and lack of a unifying strategy. This is further complicated by the politically charged environment around immigration and border enforcement missions. Disagreements on these issues delay funding and impact day-to-day operations. These conflicts are likely to dominate the FY 2024 budget debate causing distractions from critical mission execution.
These challenges must be addressed. The administration should start with developing a “Homeland Security Strategy” complementary to the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy to clearly articulate consistent priorities that serve as the foundation for the budget request. The recently released National Defense Strategy identified “Defending the Homeland” as the top defense priority. Decreasing the DHS budget certainly does not reflect that prioritization.
Simply put, our nation’s security cannot afford the status quo. We must ensure that both homeland security and homeland defense priorities are clearly defined and adequately funded.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected].
Biden’s Budget Request: DHS Would See CISA Funding Increase, $4.7 Billion Southwest Border Contingency Fund