Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 8, 2009

Homeland security budget: framing and focusing $55.1 billion

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2009

Yesterday’s release of the DHS Budget-in-Brief (BIB) gives the best sense yet of how an Obama-Napolitano department will compare to the Bush-Chertoff department.

In terms of specific dollars, the shifts are incremental.  Rather than repudiating the past, there is significant continuity.

There are differences.  Some of the differences will result in meaningful operational change.  But to focus on real risks and effectively address unresolved issues of the Department’s creation, the differences are more a matter of emphasis than fundamental policy and strategy.

The BIB opens with a recitation of vision and mission:

Our Vision

A secure America, a confident public, and a strong and resilient society and economy.

Our Mission

We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the Nation. We will secure our national borders while welcoming lawful immigrants, visitors, and trade.

These are direct quotes from the 2008 Department of Homeland Security Strategic Plan: One Team, One Mission, Securing our Homeland (large pdf).

The Secretary is seeking to execute the vision and mission through five priorities.  First set out in a speech two weeks ago, the five priorities are repeated — and fleshed out — in the BIB and in DHS public statements designed to shape understanding of the BIB.  The following five paragraphs are taken directly from the BIB:

Guarding Against Terrorism—Protecting the American people from terrorist attacks is the founding purpose of DHS and the Department’s highest priority. The proposed DHS budget expands efforts to battle terrorism, including funding for an additional 109 Bomb Appraisal Officers to help secure the nation’s airports and 15 additional Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams to detect explosives in public spaces and transportation networks; $400 million to protect critical infrastructure and cyber networks from attack; $94.5 million to detect agents of biological warfare; and resources to expand information-sharing partnerships with state and local law enforcement to mitigate threats.

Securing Our Borders—DHS is on the frontlines of preventing the smuggling of people, drugs, cash and weapons across our nation’s borders while facilitating international trade and travel. In March, the Department announced a new initiative to strengthen security on the Southwest border in order to disrupt the drug, cash and weapon smuggling that fuels cartel violence in Mexico. The budget request strengthens those efforts by adding technology, assets and manpower, including an additional five U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) cutters and two patrol planes, 44 Border Patrol agents, 65 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, 349 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, analysts and investigators, 68 pilots, and 20 marine personnel. It also includes $40 million for smart security on the Northern border to expand and integrate surveillance systems.

Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws—DHS welcomes new legal immigrants, protects against dangerous people entering the country, and pursues tough, effective enforcement against those who violate the nation’s immigration laws. The FY 2010 proposed budget contains $112 million to strengthen employment eligibility verification systems; designates $139 million to expedite the application process for new legal immigrants; allows for 80 new ICE Secure Communities personnel to target and crack down on criminal aliens; and $144.9 million to support the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will both improve border security and facilitate trade and tourism.

Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters—The Department aids state and local first responders in all stages of a disaster from preparation and response to long term recovery. DHS’ budget request provides nearly $4 billion for state and local grant programs, emergency management performance grants and firefighter assistance grants and $150 million for pre-disaster hazard mitigation efforts designed to reduce injuries, loss of life and destruction of property.

Unifying and Maturing DHS—DHS is a young department with offices dispersed throughout the country and the National Capital Region. To operate as one agency with a single, unified security mission, the proposed budget contains critical funding to consolidate more than 35 Department offices to new headquarters facilities and $200 million for new information technology infrastructure to standardize acquisitions and streamline maintenance and support contracts across the Department.

For now, these are the Secretary’s Five Articles to which she promises fealty — and seeks our cooperation.

Last week a senior staffer with the Congressional Budget Office told me of the Defense Department, “I don’t pay much attention to what the Department says is their strategy, I look at how and where they spend money.”  In part he was making  a CBO swipe at the GAO’s preoccupation with strategic planning.  But he was also stating an obvious truth.

The BIB is the administration’s opening bid in negotiations with Congress.  We will soon see what the College of Cardinals (especially Chairmen Price and Byrd, and the “young prince” Mr. Inouye) do with Ms. Napolitano’s earnest request.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 8, 2009 @ 5:54 am

Interesting comment on GAO/CBO split. Never really focused on it before. What might of course be of interest is if DHS black budget was non-existent. Also, the budget functional codes DHS has to use under the OMB system really cause huge confusion at this point. For example, most of FEMA’s budget goes out under the 045 State and local category. Little 050 national defense anymore but some is still. One of the problems Congress and DHS have is that the budget submission makes no real distinction between what are capital investments and what are operations and overhead costs that represent no real investment except for the fiscal year of the appropriation. And finally of course, by some counts there are over 200 Homeland Security programs, functions, activities housed outside DHS and this does not count those that have some Homeland Security subset. In other words I believe the total of the HOMELAND SECURITY investment is closer to $100B annually and at least 40% maybe more of the DHS budget has almost nothing to do with Homeland Security. When will Congress start to reorganize itself to help the Executive Branch be more efficient and effective? Probably never but the quirks in the system really need close analysis. Some may have wondered at the laundry list of programs, functions, activities described by the Secretary before the Senat Judiciary Committee last week but it is because they (the Judiciary Committee) has more influence over them than does the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. What is the saying “C’est La Plue, C’est la Meme!” Congress seems not to understand that it is making itself a joke and irrelevant to real discourse on issues and policies. It must be very frustrating for new members of Senate and House to discover how poorly managed those organizations are to get legislation reviewed and passed. What percentage of legislation orginates in the Executive Branch? My guess is the over-whelming majority. As Senator Byrd says “They never sleep down there” meaning the Executive Branch. And never has a political institution needed competent oversight more.

Comment by Mark Chubb

May 8, 2009 @ 10:01 am

Notwithstanding the observation of your senior CBO informant, the DHS proposed strategy and budget appear aligned on at least one point: Efforts to address the nation’s vulnerabilities through pre-disaster mitigation remain little more than an afterthought. Investments of $150m will hardly make a dent in the problems we have created nor promote DHS/FEMA leadership in policy debates about how to restore, rebuild, and replace our nation’s aging infrastructure much less prevent future mistakes like the ones we have made in the past, particularly in the areas of land use planning and exurban development.

Keeping public safety unions (particularly the powerful AFL-CIO-affiliated International Association of Fire Fighters) happy by doubling grants to hire additional employees seems to be a far higher and probably more politically expedient priority given the current emphasis on job-retention. With public safety personnel costs, especially pensions and benefits, threatening to bankrupt many municipalities (see the case of Vallejo, California for instance), this misguided strategy could hurt many more people than it helps.

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