Border security funding is definitely the biggest “winner” in the FY 2007 budget request. CBP is slated for a budget increase of 11.6% (from $5.90 billion to $6.58 billion) and ICE is slated for an increase of 22.4% (from $3.63 billion to $4.44 billion).
Key areas where DHS is expanding funding include:
- $458.9m to hire 1,500 new Border Patrol agents.
- $100m increase in funding for border technology (from $38.5m to $139.3m) associated with the Secure Border Initiative
- $30m to complete construction of the San Diego border fence (an issue that I wrote about in December in this post).
- $410.2m to construct 6,700 new detention beds. This works out to $61,223 per bed, in line with costs at high-security prisons, and seems excessively high.
- $41.7m to enhance worksite enforcement to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants.
- $60m in new funding for Fugitive Operations teams at ICE.
- $62.9m in increased funding for the US-VISIT program, primarily to integrate the IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint databases as announced in the Second-Stage Review by Sec. Chertoff.
Altogether, these line items add up to $1.16 billion in new spending on border security, a very significant commitment by DHS in a budget where cutbacks are rampant in other areas. I’m confident that Congress will want to support these new resource commitments, given their keen interest in border security during the last year, but it’s unclear how they’ll reconcile them with the likely desire to fight cutbacks on homeland security grants and hold the line on shifting TSA’s budget to a fee-funded revenue base. There’s a risk that they’ll try to solve this conundrum by going after very important DHS programs in S&T, infrastructure protection, intelligence, et al. that don’t have strong political constituencies – which would weaken the core of DHS and harm our homeland security.
I’m also a bit uncertain as to whether these investments really pass Chertoff’s “risk-based test” for homeland security spending:
Our strategy is, in essence, to manage risk in terms of these three variables â€“ threat, vulnerability, consequence. We seek to prioritize according to these variables, to fashion a series of preventive and protective steps that increase security at multiple levels.
For all of these proposed border security investments, I think we need to perform this risk-based test and ask the follow questions:
- Does this investment improve the chance of catching terrorists trying to enter the country and terror-related materials being moved across the border?
- If so, how? By (a) targeting them directly, or by (b) reducing the overall “flow” of people and illegal goods crossing the border?
- If not, will it still reduce the flow of illegal immigrants or the smuggling of illegal goods into the United States?
We can then “grade” programs based on their answers to these questions, all other things equal, as follows:
- If the answer to question #1 is yes and the response to question #2 is “a”, then this is likely an appropriate, risk-based homeland security investment.
- If the answer to question #1 is yes and the response to question #2 is “b”, then it might be an appropriate, risk-based homeland security investment – but it faces a higher burder of proof.
- If the answer to question #1 is no and the answer to question #3 is yes, then this might be a worthwhile investment, but it really doesn’t have that much to do with homeland security.
- If the answer to question #1 is no and the answer to question #3 is also no, then it’s probably a bad investment, period.
I think we need to keep this in mind during this year’s debate on immigration and border security funding, and make sure that the current political heat over illegal immigration doesn’t shortchange potential measures that have little immigration impact but could significantly improve our capabilities to prevent and deter mass-casualty terrorism. Cargo security screening and intelligence integration at the border come to mind as examples.