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Monday, August 8, 2022
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PERSPECTIVE: It’s Time for Congress to Break the Continuing-Resolution Cycle for DHS

Funding government agencies as large and complex as DHS in this manner has several deleterious impacts.

It’s that time of year in Washington, D.C.: the president has submitted the administration’s budget to Congress and the congressional committees are setting top-lines and hearing from witnesses on the priorities of federal departments and agencies. Authorization and appropriation bills will be written, marked up, and voted on. All of this will occur with an eye toward not only the end of the fiscal year, but a hotly contested and consequential midterm election cycle.

While some of the 12 annual appropriation bills receive little public attention, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) usually do. Many DHS programs and responsibilities engender strong responses from the public, whether it’s airport security funding for the Transportation Security Agency or the border security and immigration enforcement activities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While there may be strong disagreements on how DHS approaches its missions, it’s consistently clear that failing to pass a budget on time has substantial impact and consequences for our nation’s security, as well as the efficient and effective provision of government services for our citizens.

Over the past year alone, Congress has funded DHS through four separate continuing resolutions (CRs) and passed the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget six months into the fiscal year (finally adopting the FY22 omnibus appropriation bill in March 2022). Funding government agencies as large and complex as DHS in this manner has several deleterious impacts:

A CR is a “Meat Cleaver” Budget Reduction

By their nature, CRs continue the previous year’s authorizations and appropriations. In a time of substantial inflation, failing to increase appropriations to keep pace is a de facto, across-the-board budget cut for the entire department – essentially asking DHS to do more with less. For example, with an inflation escalation rate of 8.3 percent, funding DHS with another CR would amount to a nearly 10 percent budget cut (with no reduction in mission requirements). While some may wish to reduce or eliminate funding for certain agencies or activities, CRs prevent such surgical policymaking and instead lump together the entire department (including agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Secret Service, and U.S. Coast Guard) into one, large reduction in effective spending power. If policymakers wish to make strategic changes and improvements to agencies within DHS, passing a new authorization and appropriation is the most effective approach.

DHS Becomes Dependent on Outdated Technologies

While spending is not the only way to improve an agency’s performance, technological innovation typically requires authorization and funding. If a technology was not authorized or funded in the previous fiscal year, it cannot be funded under a CR. Many within and outside of DHS are clamoring for agencies within the department to invest in cost-saving, mission-enhancing technologies, like common data architectures to reduce redundancies and enhance information-sharing across DHS and machine learning to quickly parse through complex data sets to enhance national security. If such an initiative was not a funded program in 2022, it won’t be in 2023, further delaying a needed investment and lengthening the time between congressional authorization and a better-functioning department. Further, under a CR, agencies will be forced to depend on aging equipment and depleted stocks, which will increase wear-and-tear and create an environment where legacy technologies will fail at higher rates. These costs are exacerbated by the reduced spending power of agencies under a CR.

Budget Uncertainty Reduces Morale

Employees at DHS have long-endured low morale – the department has for the last decade scored substantially lower than the government average on the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS). DHS ranks last among the 17 large agencies in the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ranking. While the causes are complex, new programs to mitigate low morale cannot start – and effective existing initiatives cannot grow – if DHS continues to receive funding under CRs. Much-need additional staff, which reduces the burden on existing staff, can’t be hired under CRs, and new technical solutions the workforce depends on to reduce workloads can’t be purchased and implemented. Finally, federal employees have options: Annual budget uncertainty increases the risk that talented, dedicated public servants will leave for employers where they feel their work is valued, and replacements will be difficult to attract.

The U.S. federal government is the largest employer on Earth and perhaps the most complex organization in human history. Nearly 200,000 people serve DHS. They deserve the certainty that a regular budget provides, and the American people (as well as those seeking to legally immigrate to the U.S.) deserve a DHS that can effectively forecast and execute their plans, resourcing requirements, and operational needs.

 

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 Editor@Hstoday.us.

Scott Recinos
Scott Recinos is VP, Homeland Security Market, LMI. Scott has extensive private and public (local, state, and federal government) sector experience working with multiple federal clients, including the General Services Administration, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Prior to his current role, Scott led LMI’s customer engagement with CBP and other operational and support components of DHS. A trusted adviser to CBP senior officials, Scott has more than 30 years of multidisciplinary experience—the last 15 with LMI—in border security, civil engineering, program and project management, and construction management. From 2009 until May 2019, Scott supported the United States Border Patrol (USBP) as the chief engineer for its program management office, which plans, designs, constructs, and maintains USBP border security technology and tactical infrastructure. Scott oversaw the engineering planning and design of this multibillion-dollar portfolio and managed the development and maintenance of USBP’s design standards for tactical infrastructure.

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