As it has in years past, Congress favored the homeland security community in fiscal 2005, fundingit above the administration’s original request by boosting programs for border patrol aircraft, passenger and container screening and emergency clean-up for areas hit by natural disasters.
The bill signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 18 funded the Department of Homeland Security at about $33.1 billion, up about 9 percent from the previous year and 3 percent more than what he initially requested. The House approved $33.1 billion in spending first, in June, and then adopted a House-Senate conference committee’s version on Oct. 9. Ultimately, DHS received $28.9 billion in net discretionary spending, $1.8 billion more than in 2004—a 6.6 percent increase. Including Project BioShield, mandatory and fee-funded programs, DHS will have $40.7 billion available to it in FY 2005.
While the amounts indicated close agreements on many issues of homeland security funding, battles broke out in Congress in September over various priorities and means of collecting money for homeland security operations.
While other government appropriations bills were hung up in legislative wrangling, the politically sensitive Fiscal 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill (HR 4567) showed a great deal more movement than its counterparts, indicating its high priority in an election year.
The fight over fees
The Senate largely lost its fights with the House over their respective versions of the bill. A key battle emerged concerning the extension of certain customs user fees that were set to expire in March 2005. These merchandise processing fees are levied on originating goods from another country coming into the United States.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wanted to extend the life of the fees and was joined by the Senate leadership. In the House, however, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, objected when the bill was returned to the House. He recommended that the House reject the bill and send it back to the Senate for revisions to eliminate the fees.
But senators believed that the fees provided a way to add $784 million in revenue without adding to the national debt or violating spending caps, according to Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).
On Sept. 21, Byrd and Rep. Martin Olav Sabo (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, wrote a strongly worded letter to Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) arguing for maintaining the fees.
“The additional funding provides needed investments to protect our borders, equip first responders, enhance air and rail security, and ensure that security measures are provided to harden potential terrorism targets,” Byrd said in the letter.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by HSToday, said that by keeping the fees, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would get the money to buy radiation detectors, allowing it to improve its ability to stop the smuggling of nuclear or radiological weapons.
“CBP is far behind on its plan for deploying 2,037 radiation portal monitors at our ports,” Byrd and Sabo wrote. “The additional $50 million provided by this amendment will allow CBP to deploy radiation portal monitors to screen 100 percent of inbound containerized cargo at 30 additional seaport terminals.”
CBP would have also shared in $150 million for additional border agents and customs criminal investigators to target an increase in security along the US northern border with Canada, which Byrd said had not met staffing levels dictated by the USA PATRIOT Act.
The House approved a total of about $5.5 billion for CBP, including $4.6 billion for law enforcement activities, such as inspections of immigrants and agriculture, and for assets, such as the acquisition of aircraft and the purchase and lease of up to 4,500 police vehicles.
The House also allocated about $450 million to CBP automated systems, requiring that at least $321.6 million of it be spent on the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), a Customs computer system to speed up the processing of imports and to identify high-risk shipments. None of the money for the ACE system could be spent until the House and Senate approved a plan for it that was submitted by DHS’ undersecretary for border and transportation security.
The House anticipated that a harbor maintenance fee, which is charged to exports coming into the United States, would fund $3 billion of the total CBP budget. The House-Senate conference committee ultimately removed all extensions of customs user fees, dropping the Senate’s proposed CBP boosts.
Cold to ICE
Members of Congress were also determined to improve measures to bolster DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directorate—and especially security along the US northern border, where there was particular need for additional patrol aircraft. It was one more reason that Byrd argued for the amendment to extend customs user fees.
“This amendment strengthens the northern border by providing an additional $200 million to speed up the development of five air wings along the northern border which will track, identify, and intercept aircraft that are unauthorized to enter US airspace,” Byrd wrote.
Clearly, however, Senate and House conferees did not have the confidence to boost ICE spending too quickly. In the Oct. 9 conference report, the conferees noted they “are extremely concerned about the financial health of ICE, and whether it has the systems and management in place to support the functioning of the agency.”
Hiring and spending freezes had crippled the agency, the conferees argued, and diminished the morale of its personnel. The report directed ICE to “significantly improve management and oversight of financial and administrative systems to prevent a repeat of the dramatic and unanticipated funding difficulties in fiscal years 2004 and expected in 2005.”
Funding for detaining and removing illegal aliens received an additional $50 million from the Senate.
The Senate proposals would also have boosted spending at ICE, with $50 million for hiring more federal air marshals, adding to the $663 million approved by the House for the Federal Air Marshal Service. That increase would place more marshals on flights identified as particularly vulnerable, Byrd argued, but that funding was also returned to levels originally proposed by the House.
The House had approved $3.5 billion in funding for ICE at the end of September, including $2.4 billion for immigration enforcement, detention and removal; $258 million for maintenance of air and marine vessels; and $160 million for citizenship and immigration services.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) sponsored an amendment that would have added $50 million to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, or FIRE Act grants, to provide funding to fire departments through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That boost would have put total funding for the program in fiscal 2005 at $750 million, the same amount that the program received in fiscal 2004.
The appropriations conference approved a final amount of $715 million, however. The White House had sought only $500 million for the program; the House raised that to $600 million, and the Senate upped it to $700 million.
Firefighters can apply for FIRE Act grants through the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness to buy basic equipment such as trucks and radios needed in their everyday work.
Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) further tried to boost funds for firefighters by sponsoring $100 million in funding for the Staffing Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) Act program. Fire departments can use SAFER Act grants to hire new firefighters.
The final conference version of the bill allotted $65 million of the FIRE grants to the SAFER Act. The House had allocated $50 million for the program, but the Senate Appropriations Committee initially approved no money for it at all.
In fiscal 2004, the National Defense Authorization Act kicked off the SAFER program, which would provide $7.6 billion over seven years to hire up to 75,000 new firefighters each year if the act was fully funded.
The grants pay 90 percent of salaries for the new firefighters in the first year, but the percentage paid drops off significantly in subsequent years.
Firefighters have supported the grant programs. “The FIRE Act has been called one of the very best federal grant programs by Congress, the administration and the fire service alike. It has provided the fire service with funds for much-needed equipment and training,” Robert A. DiPoli, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said in a statement on Sept. 15. “SAFER will be just as important to the fire service as a way [to] increase our staffing to help protect the public.”
The formation of a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate stalled several times in September and October due to differences of opinion over disaster relief funds.
In September the Senate added $3 billion for two years of disaster relief for drought-stricken states. Fiscal conservatives in both the Senate and the House opposed the measure, and the Senate Republican leadership backed a compromise for $1.6 billion in drought aid to cover just one year of crop losses for farmers and ranchers. Senate leaders also sought cuts from other farm programs to offset the cost of drought aid.
In the end, appropriators awarded $2.9 million in drought relief funds, but movedthem over to the military construction appropriations bill (HR 4837) to remove the controversy from homeland security.
The drought aid was a victory for Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD)), who fought hard for it alongside Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD). The White House was reluctant to enter the battle for fear of upsetting any chance of Republican John Thune defeating Daschle in the Nov. 2 election.
“And now it appears the administration will once again stand against farmers and ranchers by opposing the bipartisan disaster aid approved by the Senate,” Daschle said on the Senate floor on Sept. 28. “I am hopeful that, given the extent of disaster all across the nation and the large bipartisan support for this aid, the administration will withdraw its opposition and agree that farmers and ranchers who are impacted by natural disasters should not be treated differently than others who are victims of hurricanes, tornadoes or floods.”
As a result of the funding battles, Congress designated clear winners and losers in homeland security appropriations.
Emergency managers stuck with cleaning up the hurricane-stricken southeast states justly received the funds required to respond to those disaster areas, as did emergency personnel in the Midwest who received drought relief.
Firefighters walked away from the appropriations process a little worse off, but with a clear sign that Congress considers their needs to be about as important as they were last year. The staunch support for the SAFER Act was cheered by firefighter associations, which would like to see federal investments go to the people who really need them.
Finally, border security and law enforcement personnel have clearly lost in the funding battle. With the apparent financial management problems at ICE, both border inspectors, federal air marshals and ICE law enforcement officers find themselves a little poorer. The strengthened northern border security sought by Sen. Baucus will be a few more years in the making.
Highlights of the FY 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations Act
Supporting state and local first responders
The 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations Act provides $4 billion for first responders, including grants to high-threat areas, firefighters, and emergency management. The bill also recognizes that no community is immune from terrorism and achieves a balance between basic formula grants, used by states and localities to achieve a minimum level of preparedness, and funds for high-risk urban areas. Specific grant levels include:
- $1.1 billion for basic formula grants;
- $1.2 billion for high-density urban areas, including $150 million for rail security and $150 million for port security;
- $400 million for state and local law enforcement terrorism prevention grants;
- $715 million for firefighter grants;
- $180 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants; and
- $195 million for first responder training.
Protecting national borders
The Act provides $9.8 billion for border protection and related activities, an increase of $700 million over fiscal year 2004 enacted levels. These funds support next-generation technology to screen high-risk cargo coming through land and seaports; an expansion of cargo inspection at foreign ports; improvements to supply chain security; implementation of the Maritime Safety and Security Act; and immigration security. Specific funding includes:
- $146 million for vehicle and cargo inspection technologies;
- $20.6 million for increased intelligence and targeting for cargo and passengers;
- $126 million for the Container Security Initiative, expanding this program to a total of 47 foreign ports;
- $38 million for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism;
- $101 million for 791 new Coast Guard personnel to enforce maritime security plans;
- $724 million for the US Coast Guard’s “Deepwater” capital acquisition program;
- $258 million for air and marine operations for border and airspace security;
- $74 million for border security technology, including surveillance and unmanned aerial vehicles; and
- $2 million to continue an immigration security pilot project at foreign airports.
Enhancing transportation security
The Act continues efforts to enhance security for all modes of transportation, including ports, rails and aviation, with a focus on research and development of next-generation technologies to inspect baggage, passengers and cargo. In total, the Act provides $5.7 billion—partially offset by fees—for TSA and federal air marshals, including:
- $2 billion for passenger screening;
- $1.46 billion for baggage screening efforts, including $295 million to install in-line explosive detection systems, and $180 million to procure additional systems and next-generation technologies;
- $118 million for air cargo security, including 100 new inspectors and research and development of next-generation technologies;
- $12 million for rail security inspectors and explosive detection canines;
- $10 million for intercity bus security; and
- $662 million for federal air marshals, ensuring mission coverage on both domestic and international flights and $10 million for the development of secure communications technology.
Science and technology
The Act provides $1.1 billion for research, development, and deployment of innovative technologies, including those proposed by universities, national laboratories, not-for-profit organizations, and private companies. The agreement recognizes the availability of diverse technologies to protect our homeland; funds will be used to test technologies, determine their applicability to homeland security requirements, and transition these technologies for use by federal, state and local officials. Specifically, the bill includes:
- $558 million to develop radiological, nuclear, chemical, biological, and high explosives countermeasures;
- $76 million for rapid development and prototyping of homeland security technologies;
- $61 million for research, development, and testing of antimissile devices for commercial aircraft;
- $16 million for container security research;
- $65 million for bio-surveillance activities, including the use of sensors to detect aerosolized bio-threats in large metropolitan areas; and
- $70 million for university-based centers of excellence.
The Act significantly enhances the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) Directorate’s ongoing work to protect critical infrastructure and key assets, providing a total of $855 million in fiscal year 2005. It supports ongoing efforts to complete an inventory of critical infrastructures by the end of the year; the development of secure communications systems with federal, state and local entities; and on-going work with the private sector to implement protective measures. The Act includes:
- $191.6 million for protective actions, including $22.9 million to place protective security advisors and teams in geographical areas with high concentrations of critical infrastructure;
- $11 million to identify and characterize potential bio-terrorist attacks;
- $67.4 million for cyber-security; and
- $35 million for the Homeland Security Operations Center, including $10 million for secure communications with state and local governments.
Traditional missions such as immigration, disaster mitigation and relief, drug interdiction, law enforcement, maritime safety and security, and trade
- $828 million to modernize border, customs, and immigration information technology, including $340 million for the US-VISIT program and $322 million for the Automated Commercial Environment;
- $2.9 billion for traditional Coast Guard operating activities, including maritime safety, drug interdiction, and fisheries, environmental, and humanitarian missions;
- $1.2 billion for the US Secret Service;
- $2 billion for disaster relief;
- $31.7 million to enforce laws related to forced child labor, intellectual property rights, and textile trans-shipment;
- $7.1 million to support investigations related to missing and exploited children; and
- $1.7 billion for immigration services, including $1.6 billion in fee supported activities.
- Includes bill language regarding air cargo security screening and inspections, requiring inspections to triple during the fiscal year;
- Includes bill language prohibiting the use of funds to deploy or implement Secure Flight/CAPPS II until certain conditions are met;
- Maintains a cap of 45,000 for TSA passenger screeners;
- Amends the Homeland Security Act with regard to contracts with foreign incorporated entities; and
- Includes a provision prohibiting the use of funds for processing or approving a competition under OMB Circular A-76 unless certain conditions are met.
Source: House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee