Yesterday, Secretary Napolitano appeared on Capitol Hill for a second consecutive full day of hearings on the FY2010 proposed DHS budget. In the morning she was on the House side, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee. In the afternoon, she switched over to the Senate and testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.
During the hearings, Secretary Napolitano faced pointed questions on the elimination of funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and the 60% cut to Fire Act grants (See my May 8th posting below assessing the Homeland Security Budget Numbers for more information on these cuts). On SCAAP, Members put her in awkward spot of having to defend a cut to a program that is 1) not within her Department and 2) that she had supported while Governor and Arizona. The Secretary noted that the program – as well discussion of its elimination – falls with the Justice Department’s purview and refocused the discussion on what is in her jurisdiction – DHS’ efforts to address the flow of illegal immigration into the country. As noted in my earlier posting, expect SCAAP funding to be partially, if not fully, restored by the appropriations committees in the FY2010 spending bills.
On Fire Grants, Members – in all four hearings – expressed concerns about the cuts. While some of the money was transferred over to SAFER Grants (recruitment and hiring), Members remain committed to providing fire departments with equipment purchasing funds. The Secretary did attempt to address this issue by mentioning funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka stimulus bill), but that argument did not appear to convince Members to support the cuts and movement of funds. Rob Margetta at CQ Homeland Security has a good description of Member reaction in his story detailing the hearings.
Speaking of first responders, the White House formally notified Congress yesterday that FEMA will remain within the Department. This was reinforced during the hearings yesterday when Secretary Napolitano was asked about whether FEMA would stay in DHS. Perfect timing for a decision, as the Senate yesterday confirmed FEMA’s new Administrator, Craig Fugate, after Senator David Vitter (R-LA) dropped his hold on the nomination. Vitter dropped his hold after he received a letter from FEMA committing to working on solutions that meet the needs of those affected by disasters. Word is that Administrator Fugate reports to duty on Monday. With hurricane season only a few weeks away, this appointment (and the decision to keep FEMA in DHS) is both timely and critical.
Interestingly enough, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is holding a hearing this morning at 11 am on “an Independent FEMA.” The hearing will focus on FEMA “and how it has functioned since its placement in the Department of Homeland Security.” DHS is not slated to testify but it should be interesting to hear what the panelists say about the White House decision, especially in light of Chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) push for an independent FEMA. He and other T&I Members introduced H.R. 1174, the FEMA Independence Act of 2009, back in February.