Strings attached to DHS 2006 budget

Congress pushes more reports, oversight

Porous borders and balky Homeland Security Department technology programs came under fire in a spending bill that House and Senate appropriators have sent for floor approval.

Their version of HR 2360 imposed tight oversight of the department's technology programs and increased spending for IT to block illegal immigration. The conference committee cleared $30.8 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2006, $1.2 billion more than the administration's request and $1.l billion more than in 2005.

The appropriations committees highlighted their increases in spending for border control technologies and staff, which they boosted to $5.9 billion, $378 million above the administration's request.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) reflected the border security concern in a statement on the committee's action: "We have now gotten legislation to the Senate floor that genuinely recognizes the scope of the [border security] problem, and commits serious resources to deal with it. There's still much to be done, but this bill represents a quantum leap toward the goal of restoring the rule of law along the border."

Reports that a very popular issue among voters is the prevention of illegal immigration are one motive for the border IT spending boost, according to congressional staff members.

The appropriations committees delved deep into the department's technology agenda, inserting provisions calling for the panels to approve spending plans and technology outlines before projects could advance.

The appropriations bill also is crafted to reflect the departmental reorganization that resulted from Secretary Michael Chertoff's second-stage review.

But as lawmakers endorsed Chertoff's reorganization, the appropriators canceled some key parts of it in the spending legislation. For example, their draft bill hobbles the new Screening and Coordination Office by forbidding the department to transfer the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System program to it, as Chertoff had planned.But without the U.S. Visit program, the office will have less effect on border protection and control.

"It's always bad to have Congress micromanage like that," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But there is a lot of frustration with the department's apparent lack of progress across the board.

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

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