Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 11, 2006

Senators discuss the state of homeland security

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 11, 2006

As the Senate debates the FY 2007 homeland security appropriations bill today, it’s worth reading the remarks on the Senate floor yesterday by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) about the bill. The full text of their remarks, copied from the Congressional Record, can be found at the preceding links. Below are some notable excerpts:

Sen. Gregg, on the conflict between the Senate and the Administration over how to spend the $1.9 billion in border security funds in the FY 2006 supplemental:

Now, we have tried to move forward. This year, we put $1.9 billion into the supplemental to try to address the capital needs of the border issue, such as the aircraft, the fact that our aircraft we are flying down there are 40 years over their useful life, the helicopters are 20 years over their useful life; the fact that the Coast Guard is on a program of building coastal security capability, but it is on a program that won’t build out until 2023, and we think that should be accelerated to 2015; the fact that we only had one unmanned vehicle on the southern border–or anywhere on the borders, for that matter–and that one unmanned vehicle crashed, and we need to replace it and add more. And we have a lot of technology needs and also just plain old-fashioned cars and desks and training capability, things we felt we needed on the capital side.

Well, as to that idea, although the Congress thought it made sense, the administration did not. They took the number and converted it. We are happy to have the money. Initially, the Department was not even happy to have the money, but they took the money, and they converted it to operational needs, adding another 1,000 agents, adding another 4,000 beds, adding operational costs, and also some capital needs. I think the helicopters were covered. The planes were not upgraded. There were unmanned vehicles that would be purchased. So that was a point of disagreement, but at least we were on the right track.

But the practical effect of that bill was we created what is known as a fiscal tail, which meant that as you added operational costs in the supplemental, you had to add additional money in the main bill in order to pay for the operational needs which would be ongoing, which meant that the basic bill was stressed, first because it did not have full funding because of the $1.4 billion hold that was put in it by the setting up of a fee system, which everybody knew was not going to work, and secondly because of the tail that came out of this supplemental, which meant we had to pick up about $600 million of cost we had not planned to pick up in this bill in order to maintain the costs which had been put in the supplemental, which we felt should have, instead, been capital costs rather than operational costs.

Sen. Byrd on the sluggish pace at with which DHS doles out homeland security grant funds:

The Department continues to allow valuable homeland security dollars to gather dust in the Treasury rather than getting the money out to State and local governments where the money can actually be used to secure our ports and mass-transit systems or to purchase interoperable communications equipment.

In the fiscal year 2006 Homeland Security appropriations report, we directed the Department to send Congress a report by February 10 providing an expedited schedule for awarding homeland security grants. Last week, 5 months late, we got the report. The report detailed the Department’s plan to award 20 different grant programs in the last month of the fiscal year. Congress approved funds last October, yet the funds will sit here in Washington for almost a year. Last week was the 1-year anniversary of the London train bombing. Yet under the Department’s plan rail and transit security funding that was appropriated by Congress last October will not be awarded until this September. The same malaise applies to grants to secure our ports, our buses, for securing buffer zones around nuclear and electrical plants, and grants to hire more firefighters. What is the administration waiting for? Does there have to be another horrendous attack with thousands of deaths before this Department will shake out of its nearly comatose state?

Sen. Dorgan on prioritizing threats in the overall national security budget:

It is interesting that when the Defense authorization bill comes to the floor of the Senate, we spend billions and billions of dollars defending against a rogue nation or a terrorist acquiring a nuclear weapon, putting it on the tip of an intercontinental ballistic missile and shooting it at our country at 18,000 miles an hour. So we are spending billions on an antiballistic missile system to try to hit a bullet with a bullet. It is my judgment–and I think the judgment of most people who evaluate what is the most likely threat against our country–that the most likely threat is a container ship pulling up to a dock at a seaport in this country at about 3 miles with a container on board, with a weapon of mass destruction inside that container that has not been inspected. That is a far more likely threat to this country than a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile acquired by a rogue nation or a terrorist organization. Yet we are spending thousands of times more money on the antiballistic missile program than we are on port security.

(Note: It’s not thousands of times more money – but even at 5x or 10x, the general point still stands).

The full statements, in particular the one from Sen. Gregg, are worth reading as a snapshot of the state of DHS.

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