Interesting piece this morning from Tim Starks of CQ regarding the “urgency” of passing the Homeland Security Appropriations bill conference report, which will be in House rules tomorrow and is expected to be on the House floor by the end of the week. Starks notes that the bill, which traditionally has been above politics and quick to the President’s desk, is moving slower this year. Not the first bill out, it is in the middle of the spending bills pack this year. On the authorizing side, the Department will not see this year the passage of a homeland security authorization measure in either the House or Senate.
Is this slower pace of passage a warning that homeland security is waning as a priority for the U.S.? Have we finally reached a point where the panic has passed and we are looking at homeland security more holistically and less urgently?
It is difficult to say with certainty. The amount of federal spending dedicated to homeland security does not necessarily indicate a waning. A healthy chunk of funding from the stimulus bill this year also went to the Department for distribution. The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed budget for FY2010 is $42.77 billion – a 6.6% ($2.64 billion) from FY2009. This increase came despite the predictions of many that homeland security’s budget, especially in the grants area, would have have to be cut to accommodate domestic needs.
With regards to an authorization bill – there has never been, since the Department’s creation, an authorization bill sent to the President to sign. In 2003, when the House Select Committee on Homeland Security first attempted to pass such a bill out of Committee, Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) walked out of the mark-up as he couldn’t get the majority of his Republican Members to show up. He had a hard time because the majority of his Members were Chairmen of other Committees who did not want to cede power to the temporary Committee. The Committee’s Democrats, on the other hand, showed up in force with more than 100 amendments and were accused of being obstructionists to the process. A rocky start to say the least.
That first attempt would be a sign of things to come though the House did finally pass an authorization bill in 2005 for FY2006. An FY2007 authorization bill made it through the House Homeland Security Committee in 2006. There have been no other attempts to tackle a catch-all authorization bill since that date in the House. The Senate has never acted to pass an authorization bill.
If we are not seeing a waning, we certainly are seeing a shift of priorities on how Congress is tackling the homeland security problem. Committees in both the Senate and House are focusing on more “nuts and bolts” issues that are critical to the management, procurement, and processes of the evolving Department. For example, on Wednesday, the House Homeland Security is looking at diversity within the DHS career ranks. There have been a number of hearings this year looking at such issues as acquisition processes, specific programmatic contracts, and the Department’s pending move to the St Elizabeth’s campus.
Unless some catastrophe strikes, we can expect this nuts and bolts approach to continue, especially once the findings of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR ) are made public. At that time, there is some expectation that DHS may see some more shifting of programs and policies to ensure a more functional and operational “one DHS, one one enterprise, a shared vision, with integrated results-based operations.”
These issues may not be sexy but they are important ones to assuring that the agency is capable, if the U.S. is attacked or a natural disaster strikes, of managing its response.