Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 8, 2006

House Dems respond to the DHS budget request

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on February 8, 2006

The Democratic Staff of the House Homeland Security Committee released a report yesterday that criticizes the DHS budget request.

The report includes some valid critiques of the budget. For example, it disapproves of inadequate funding for the National Disaster Medical System:

The President’s budget essentially flat funds the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). Last year, funding for NDMS was cut to $33.9 million from $134 million, the FY 2005 level. This resulted in a reduction of full-time employees from 88 to 40. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, NDMS was activated and it was unable to provide the necessary response. Given this, more funding is obviously needed to strengthen NDMS. Yet, the President has requested only $33.9 million, which does not provide for the additional personnel. This may prove to be a costly mistake in four months when the next hurricane season starts.

But too often, the report seems to sound the monotone argument that “we need to be spending more on item X,” with little discussion of whether more funding is warranted if you follow a risk-based approach, or whether it’s feasible to spend more money fast enough. For example:

Considering the threat of a nuclear or dirty bomb attack, the President’s request for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) does not adequately fund radiation portal monitor acquisition. The meager request of $157 million would only allow the Department to purchase few machines, providing scant coverage and leaving many ports of entry vulnerable. The budget request is $130 million short of what is required to cover the entire nation with existing technology to ensure that our ports and borders are equipped to prevent the world’s most dangerous weapons from entering the country.

We definitely need to get to 100% coverage for radiation portal monitors at ports-of-entry soon. But unlike the report, I’d hardly call $157m a “meager request”, and I think this amount of funding represents a very positive step in the direction of total coverage.

And another example:

Funding in the President’s budget is 25 percent short of the level needed to hire the 2,000 border patrol agents required by the 9/11 Act. It is also 20 percent short of the funding needed to provide the 8,000 detention bed spaces authorized by Congress in that Act.

As it is, the budget proposes 1,500 new agents and 6,700 new beds, a very significant commitment. The Democratic report doesn’t explain how an additional investment in 500 more agents and 1,300 more agents would make a difference above and beyond the proposed increase, and whether this is consistent with a broad risk-based approach for border security.

A critique that focuses on effectiveness, rather than raw spending levels, and makes hard choices based on budgetary realities and risk analysis, would provide a much more substantive contribution to the debate on the Department’s budget.

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