Last Thursday, the House approved a 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill that slashes homeland spending by $1.1 billion dollars (2.6% decrease) for this year. The bill is $3 million less (more than 7%) than the Obama budget request. The bill passed the House by a vote of 231-188, with many voting against it expressing concerns and objections over proposed cuts to mass transit, grant programs, and interoperable communications.
The biggest cuts were to grants and the Science & Technology directorate.
In the grants area, President Obama had requested $3 billion for various grant programs, including those intended to strengthen mass transit and port security efforts. The bill allocated $807 million. There was an effort by Congressmen Tim Bishop and Rush Holt to add $75 million to help build up mass transit security, especially in light of evidence gathered during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound suggested that trains were an inviting target. That amendment was defeated.
The Science & Technology Directorate was decimated, being allocated $398 million, a 52% percent cut. The Administration had actually asked for more funding for the critical directorate – close to $1.2 billion. According to Science Insider, the decrease “will wipe out dozens of programs, stalling the development of technologies for border protection, detection of bio-hazards, and cargo screening.”
For many of the cuts, supporters of the bill said that a number of grant programs were not proven to provide federal benefit in our homeland security efforts. Others noted that some funds from past years remain unspent.
These are obviously hard times requiring financial discipline at all levels of government and the private sector. That said, terrorists and disasters do not stop doing their thing because the U.S. needs to reduce its deficit.
There is also no question that the U.S. government must be more efficient in how it allocates and spends homeland security funding. The grants programs are in need of tuning — we’ve seen over the past ten years the call for a more risk-based approach to homeland security grant allocations. It is unclear, however, how the grants cuts proposed by the House bill address the needs of homeland security while promoting efficiencies. If there are abuses, duplication or a lack of necessity for funds, then substantial assessments – tied to risks and threats-should more clearly drive the homeland security appropriations process. Complicating such an approach is how to link homeland spending to disasters as disasters cannot be predicted, though they can be prepared for.
In terms of the Science & Technology cuts, those potentially put our nation at risk in the long term. As the 9/11 Commission noted in its assessment of the failures leading to 9/11, “[t]he most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat.” The work that is happening in S&T is intended to meet present and future threats in a thoughtful way. Rather than being reactive and instituting security measures as things arise and after the fact (think quart baggies for liquids and shoe removal), the work in S&T should be addressing and anticipating homeland security needs – linking the private sector to academia to government to end users. If the cuts to S&T are intended to address deficiencies in the component, then those deficiencies should be specifically addressed rather than cutting the component in its entirety.
With the exception of funding restrictions for TSA on personnel issues (meant to tackle collective bargaining and private screeners), most of the homeland security appropriations cuts do not seem political in and of themselves. While the intent may be well-meaning in most instances, the U.S. cannot risk making the wrong decisions on the homeland security front. Al Qaeda is as interested in causing us economic damage as physical harm. The wrong cuts now could actually end up costing the U.S. more in the long run if vulnerabilities are left unaddressed.