The FY 2006 supplemental funding legislation, H.R. 4939, emerged out of House-Senate conference last week, and the big loser was port security funding. $648m in funding for port and cargo security that was in the Senate’s version of the bill was stripped out in conference. The Seattle Times editorialized on this decision today:
By slashing nearly $650 million in new money for port security, the federal government is saving money at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Belt-tightening, usually a good thing, halts for at least a year spending that would have moved the country toward a more credible effort on port security. Inspectors now check less than 5 percent of more than 11 million containers that enter American ports. That’s not enough.
The $648 million was not feel-good money. It would have provided a measure of protection for ports and port cities such as Seattle and Tacoma, the third-largest port system in the country.
The new funds were intended to pay for 60 more imaging machines that allow inspectors to peer inside cargo containers as they arrive. It would have added customs inspectors at 50 foreign ports and more U.S. Coast Guard inspectors at foreign and domestic ports.
All the bipartisan rhetoric about beefing up homeland security, all the indignation and outrage about Dubai Ports World making our country vulnerable, becomes empty when federal funding fails to materialize. This was an investment of federal dollars that made sense.
This decision to cut port security funding is especially egregious when you consider what was still kept in the final bill:
- $176,000,000 for construction of a new facility for the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Mississippi.
- $38,000,000 to NOAA for reseeding, rehabilitation and restoration of oyster reefs.
- $500,000,000 for emergency agricultural disaster assistance related to the 2005 hurricanes.
The version of the bill that emerged out of conference also significantly restructured the $1.9 billion in border security funding that was included in the Senate’s version of the bill. The Senate had directed most of this $1.9 billion at capital investments (see the breakdown in this post), whereas the new bill, according to the conference report, distributes this $1.9 billion accordingly:
- $708 million for the National Guard border deployments;
- $410 million for hiring new Border Patrol;
- $95 million for Air & Marine Operations;
- $300 million for CBP’s construction budget;
- $327 million for ICE salaries;
- $15 million for state & local grants; and
- $25 million for FLETC.
These border security funding decisions reflect a very different philosophy in comparison with the Senate’s version of the bill, away from strategic long-term investment, and in favor of short-term tactical imperatives. Unlike most of the money in the Senate’s version of the bill, these are not one-time investments, and they create obligations for future years. This introduces the risk that funds for necessary capital expenditures will be crowded out in future years.