House, Senate approve final DHS budget bill

The House and Senate have approved the Appropriations conference committee's version of the fiscal 2006 Homeland Security Department spending bill.

The conference agreement provided $30.8 billion for DHS operations in 2006, an increase of $1.4 billion above last year and $1.3 billion above the administration request. The agreement that both chambers approved reflects the DHS reorganization plan that secretary Michael Chertoff proposed in July.

Much of the funding that lawmakers added to the administration request was aimed at strengthening border protection. The DHS appropriations bill also reached deep into specific programs to impose reporting and monitoring requirements before funds could be released.

The House approved the bill yesterday by a recorded vote of 347-70. The Senate cleared the bill by voice vote today.

In a statement on the bill, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, noted that the bill "requires the Office of the Chief Information Officer to develop and report on its enterprise architecture and other strategic planning activities, and specifically directs USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] to submit an IT transformation plan."

Gregg added that "interoperable communications remains a significant priority. One of the hurdles facing communities attempting to achieve this goal is that not all of the technical standards, known as Project 25, are finished. Some standards continue under development."

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), ranking Democrat on the full House Appropriations Committee, objected to several provisions in the compromise bill. "First, funding is insufficient. The discretionary funding provided in this legislation is only $1.3 billion, or 4.5 percent more than was provided in 2005. This is only slightly more than inflation," Obey said.

"Because of the need to add $675 million more for border programs, the conferees cut funding for other programs substantially below the president's own request," he continued. "These funding cuts include such programs as pre-disaster mitigation, terrorism grants to states and localities, Coast Guard operations, and aviation security screening. [House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security] ranking member [Rep. Martin] Sabo [D-Minn.], Senator Robert Byrd [D-W.Va,] and I attempted to raise the funding level by $1.7 billion in conference, but were rejected in a party line vote."

President Bush likely will sign the bill into law.

Wilson S. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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