More dollars for DHS

Congress writes bigger check for homeland security

Congress is building a Homeland Security Department funding piñata, with technology-laced spending sweeteners for every state and congressional district, and it's on a fast track for enactment before fiscal 2007 begins Oct. 1.

Both chambers have upped the administration's ante of about $32 billion in discretionary spending to set up a three-way tug of war among the House, Senate and White House in conference committee negotiations over the bill's fine print.
The Senate spending plan calls for $715 million above the budget request, and the House bill tops the administration proposal by more than $1 billion.

The negotiations will feature bargaining over the different spending numbers and varying policy directives endorsed by the House, Senate and administration.

The Office of Management and Budget has issued Statements of Administration Policy endorsing both chambers' versions of HR 5441 and asking Congress to eliminate some of the changes it made to the administration's proposed bill.

DHS officials declined to comment on the bills.

As a matter of law and tradition, Congress is supposed to enact policy decisions in authorization legislation and specify spending levels in appropriations bills.

But Congress likely won't pass a Homeland Security authorization bill this year, several sources said. So the funding bill has become the vehicle for a menagerie of policy directives.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said the panel has worked on a series of investigations and hearings covering issues, such as port security, chemical security and postal matters, that were more pressing than drafting an authorization bill.

But when it finally appears, the bill will include a number of provisions affecting its IT spending that lawmakers typically outline in the authorization bill.

One of the most significant differences between the House and Senate spending bills is a Senate provision that would delay and modify the administration's People Access Security Services program. The PASS program would create a new radio frequency identification credential for mandatory use by some U.S. citizens entering the country.

The Senate's DHS spending bill mandates a 17-month delay in the PASS program's RFID card plan, among other provisions.

The PASS program delay amendment gained traction last week in the House, even though representatives did not include a similar provision in their draft spending bill.

One senior House aide close to the PASS program negotiations said the House members of the conference committee likely would seek to modify, but not scuttle, the Senate amendment.

"The momentum in favor of the amendment that has been noticeable in the Senate has been noticeable in the House," said a senior aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The aide said that there is no sign of opposition to the PASS amendment in the House.

The aide said Leahy had asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff about the departments' long-simmering dispute over PASS card technology.

Various sources said that State and DHS are close to resolving their different approaches to PASS cards' RFID technology, but OMB has not approved their plans.

Some sources said DHS and State have agreed to use the ultra-high-frequency RFID technology on the PASS card, and DHS is expected to issue a draft request for proposals this week.

If the PASS card requirement delay is enacted, the program's foes will have about a year and a half to rally opposition to the entire project.

Good idea?

James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, condemned the new travel credential program. "I think the PASS card program's requirement for a new travel document is a stupid idea," he said.

Carafano backs a proposal to persuade the Canadian government to issue secure driver's licenses that would serve as proof of citizenship, comparable to the REAL ID Act.

President George W. Bush signed the REAL ID Act May 11, 2005, as part of a supplemental appropriations bill. The requirement for secure driver's licenses kicks in three years from then.

"If we trust people to get on airplanes with only [secure] driver's licenses for identification, we should allow them as identification for border crossing," Carafano said.

"Canada and the United States are sovereign countries, but they are inextricably linked, and any impediment to travel is bad," he said. "You raise the bridge, you don't lower the river."

Wilson P. Dizard III is a senior writer with Government Computer News. He can be reached at wdizard@postnewsweektech.com.

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