DHS wants steady funding stream for secure border

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Monday he will ask Congress to approve $1 billion for the Secure Border Initiative Network in fiscal 2008 to support construction of fencing, vehicle barriers and an electronic "virtual fence" surveillance system along the U.S. land borders.

The amount supplements $1.2 billion that Congress has made available for border security projects, including SBI-Net, in the current fiscal year.

"This ensures a very substantial funding stream going forward," Chertoff said at a press conference

By October 2007, the Homeland Security Department expects to build 150 miles of traditional fencing along the borders, primarily in the Southwest, Chertoff said. The department's goal is to install 370 miles of traditional fencing and several hundred miles of vehicle barriers by Dec. 31, 2008.

Furthermore, there will be "hundreds of miles" of virtual fencing, including sensor, camera and other technology deployments, installed by the end of 2008, said Greg Giddens, SBI-Net project manager.

"We want to have the right barriers, the right locations and the right tactical support," Chertoff said.

In total, Chertoff said the administration is requesting $34.3 billion in net discretionary funding for DHS in fiscal 2008, an increase of 6 percent over this year's enacted level, excluding supplemental budgets. When supplemental DHS appropriations of $1.8 billion are included in the calculations for this year's budget, the fiscal 2008 request represents only a 0.3 percent increase over this year's level of $34.2 billion.

First responders would receive funding from a new $1 billion Public Safety Interoperable Communications grant program, in partnership with the Commerce Department. The money would pay for radio and communication systems for police, fire and emergency agencies. The funding is not included in DHS' total budget because it would be derived from auction sales of federally owned radio spectrum. State and local agencies would also receive preparedness grants totaling $2.2 billion for equipment, training and exercises.

Among the other changes announced for fiscal 2008, the Bush Administration proposes to relocate the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, or U.S. Visit, program into a new directorate, to be named the National Protection and Programs Directorate, with initial funding of $1.04 billion.

The new division would house the infrastructure protection and cybersecurity offices as well. DHS' current preparedness directorate, and office of grants and training, would be dissolved and their components folded into the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under the plan, U.S. Visit, which tracks entries of foreign visitors, will increase its funding to $508.7 million, an increase of $146.2 million over the current year, to continue the transition from the current two-fingerprint system to a 10-fingerprint system. The goal is to make U.S. Visit's fingerprinting system interoperable with the Justice Department fingerprinting systems.

DHS is requesting $252 million for implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative at land ports of entry. Under the initiative, U.S. citizens, Canadians, Mexicans and others who previously did not require passports to cross the U.S. borders will now need to carry either a passport or some other type of approved biometric identification card.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking an increase of $100 million to fund its Vision Initiatives to transform its approach to business operations and project management. The money will enable FEMA to develop and integrate IT systems, policies, internal controls and processes, states the news release.

Other IT-related proposed spending items are:
  • $139 million in new fee revenues will be used for transforming and improving the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' business processes and outdated IT systems, including replacement of paper-based processes. Of the total, $124 million will go for upgrading the IT environment.
  • $38 million to continue development of the Secure Flight airline passenger prescreening system, to make it interoperable with the Customs and Border Protection's Advanced Passenger Information System network. The Government Accountability Office last month recommended that the screening systems be better integrated.
  • $30 million for expansion of the Employment Eligibility Verification program to allow employers to check on the immigration status of prospective employees.
  • $21.9 million to support a newly-formed Science and Technology office of innovation for development of "leap-ahead technologies" to address high-priorities, including the needs for resilient electric grids, tunnel detection devices and devices to detect and defeat portable anti-missile systems that can be used against aircraft.
  • $12 million for the Coast Guard's Nationwide Automatic Identification System to enhance the ability to identify, track and exchange information with vessels.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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