David Price, Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, yesterday detailed five areas for DHS to focus its efforts. The presentation offered a glimpse into the thinking of the man overseeing the House’s spending plans for DHS. Today the full House Appropriations Committee marks up the $40 billion draft bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security in FY 2009. During Monday’s event, hosted by the Center for American Progress, Price offered criticism and counsel in the following areas:
Immigration: The next administration must make criminal illegal immigrants ICE’s top priority. The draft 2009 appropriations bill supports this, and would provide resources for a current ICE plan to identify such illegal immigrants in federal, state and local prisons and deport them after they have served their sentences. The legislation also devotes attention to the northern border, which Price called “more significant as a potential entry point for terrorists than the southern border.”
Price also calls for comprehensive immigration reform, saying the current administration seemed to be on that track, but “now seems to have turned 180 degrees toward an enforcement-only approach.” Rob Margetta at CQ Homeland Security also notes that it was Congress that failed to pass the reform bill.
Price recommended that if the next Administration makes immigration reform a higher priority and pursues it more effectively, such reform will “strengthen our economy, reaffirm the rule of law, and enhance homeland security, allowing DHS to focus more effectively on that small percentage of illegal immigrants that has the capacity and the intent to commit crimes and do us harm.”
Disaster and Emergency Response: FEMA’s capability to deal with large-scale natural disasters suffered when it was absorbed into DHS, and its relationships with state and local responders were better before Sept. 11, 2001, Price said. Price implied that the agency should be elevated to cabinet status or broken out of DHS in the next administration.
Price also asserted that FEMA shouldn’t be in the business of providing emergency housing in the Gulf Coast, but that the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be. Although the process has been occurring, it has been slow and lacking in direction, he said.
Management: DHS leadership needs to strike a better balance between providing overall policy guidance and leaving departmental components free to do the fine tuning, between nurturing the new homeland security missions of component agencies and maintaining their historic mission capabilities.
Price specifically called out the need to improve the Department’s financial system management, procurement management, and oversight. Price also noted the difficulty in staffing up faced by new agencies at DHS, as well as the heavy dependence on contractors for critical management functions. Price stated that 72 percent of the career executives at DHS left the Department between 2003 and 2007, compared to an average of 46 percent among all other Federal Departments.
72%? Seems hard to believe, but it may be the case given the morale challenges there. This is the management train wreck that could hobble any good idea in the Department.
Technology and Privacy: Price said DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate has made progress in aligning its work better with the needs of component agencies, but added that the department must be cautious of rushing into technology investments without considering privacy implications or real-world effectiveness.
He cited Secure Flight, which was delayed for years, as well as CBP’s SBINet as examples of programs where attention to privacy protections and technology viability was insufficient at the outset.
“New technologies are not something we should naively bank on,” Price said. “Too often they just don’t work as advertised, as we have seen at our southern border, or they may be premature or have costs that exceed their benefits.”
Grants and Risk Analysis: Price noted that most of the Department’s grants are allocated using risk formulas, but that DHS “has struggled both to develop credible formulas with measurable components and to apply the formulas objectively and consistently.” This has prevented Congress from measuring how or whether grant investments are reducing risk.
This leads to a dual challenge, Price explained: spending is high for daunting threats deemed so perilous that we cannot afford not to spend more money; while at other times, funding is inadequately low because it is difficult to know that the funding is having the desired affect.
Price believes that first responder grants fall into the second category, but that robust investments must continue in first responder equipment and training, port security upgrades, and transit security precautions. However, Price is not satisfied that these grants are being made wisely. The fiscal 2008 appropriations bill commissioned the National Academies of Science with assessing DHS’s risk assessment system, and the next secretary should use that data to guide investments, he said. Both the House and the Senate bills for FY09 DHS spending double the president’s request for first responder grants.