The Senate Appropriations Committee moved the DHS FY 2007 appropriations bill out of the full committee today; this press release summarizes their version of the legislation.
At the beginning of the budget season, I predicted that this would be a painful budget season for DHS. The Department’s decision to propose a fee increase for TSA that they knew would be dead-on-arrival created a $1.2 billion hole in the middle of the budget; a hole that both the House and the Senate appropriations committees have struggled to fill. The new operational costs created by the border funding (e.g. the National Guard deployment) in the FY 2006 supplemental made this an even deeper hole.
As a natural result, both versions of the bill propose funding decisions that would be real setbacks to U.S. homeland security, in a number of different areas. The programs that were cut or not fully funded are generally newer programs; it’s much easier to scale back new programs than to propose cuts to programs that have existing workforces and established cost structures. But the result of this is that some of the most important and urgent DHS missions are likely to be underfunded this year, in areas like infrastructure protection, preparedness, and science & technology.
Take the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, responsible for developing a national architecture to detect and prevent the use of nuclear or radiological weapons on U.S. soil. By all accounts the DNDO has been doing a solid job in its first 17 months of existence. The DHS budget request proposed $536 million for the DNDO in FY 2007. The House bill cuts this funding level to $500 million, and the Senate bill scales it to $442.5 million – all out of the DNDO’s R&D budget.
Preventing a nuclear attack on U.S. soil is, for my money, far and away the most important mission of the Department of Homeland Security. And the technologies to detect radiological and nuclear materials are by all accounts inadequate today. Given these realities, how can it be a good idea to roll back the DNDO’s R&D budget by $93 million (nearly one-third of the total)? The security return-on-investment from the DNDO is potentially enormous. If anything, I’d suggest spending more. A comparison of its value to U.S. national security with many big ticket items in the DOD’s procurement budget (for example, the Air Force’s F-22A Raptor at $361 million per plane) raises profound questions about whether we are truly serious about stopping mass casualty terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.