Reuters reports on a hearing held today by the Subcommittee on Homeland Security of the House Appropriations Committee to look at TSA’s budget request for FY 2007. The story supports what I wrote in my budget analysis for the TSA last week: that the idea of increasing airline fees would be dead on arrival when it reached Congress.
Kentucky Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee on transportation, told Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley that the proposal amounts to a tax that Republicans cannot accept.
Rogers blasted White House budget planners and the Homeland Security Department for failing to offer alternatives to pay for passenger and bag screening operations.
Lawmakers soundly rejected a similar fee hike proposal last year.
“The next time you come up here proposing something like this, just know that it is going to be thrown back in your face,” Rogers told Hawley.
Rogers also said Hawley had to find at least $1.3 billion in savings in the proposed budget to offset the loss of revenue from the security fee increase.
“We’re cutting the budget to make up the difference,” Rogers said. “Where shall we cut?”
I don’t think it’d be possible to cut $1.3 billion from TSA’s budget without severely harming aviation security. TSA’s budget has been slowly squeezed over the last few years, and it’d be difficult to cut $300-$400m, let alone $1.3 billion.
So if Congress is serious about blocking this, then what are the options? One would be to increase the total size of the budget request for DHS to offset the lack of new fee revenue, but that’s difficult in this budget-cutting environment. Another would be to cut back on the “new” items in the FY 2007 budget request, which are concentrated on the immigration and border security mission – but again, Congress has been strongly supportive of spending more money on the borders, so I don’t see any sentiment to reduce these new requests.
A third option is the one that would be easiest politically, but probably the most damaging to homeland security. Congress could decide to chip away funds from key DHS activities that are less sexy than border security and don’t have strong political constituencies, but are at the core of our efforts to enhance homeland security. Potential targets would be the budgets and programs for intelligence, infrastructure protection, science and technology, port and cargo security, and the funds for DHS headquarters. If DHS is going to become a leading-edge and proactive department in the coming years, these are some of the key areas where capacity still needs to be built.
After reading this story, I’m starting to think that it’s going to be a much more contentious process this year to pass the homeland security budget than in years past. From FY 2004 to FY 2006, there weren’t really any difficult choices that needed to be made between competing priorities. As a result, the last few DHS appropriations bills have been signed more or less on time, close to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. That’s not true this year. When you strip out the proposed TSA fee increases, the DHS budget request is basically flat from FY 2006. There definitely won’t be any free lunch between competing priorities in trying to pass the DHS budget this year.
For more information, see subcommittee chairman Hal Rogers’ opening statement for the hearing and TSA Administrator Kip Hawley’s prepared testimony for a different committee – House Homeland Security – today.