House bill boosts funding for preparedness

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a $36.3 billion spending bill for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2008 that boosts funding for state and local preparedness, reduces Deepwater monies and puts conditions on financial support for a number of other key programs.

"The bill makes reductions to programs that are low priority or have management problems in order to free up funding for crucial spending," states a committee summary.

Some of the other programs for which the House imposed conditions on financial support include border fencing and infrastructure, new border-crossing cards and immigration tracking.

The committee approved, by voice vote, a DHS budget of $2.1 million, or 5 percent, more than what was requested by the White House, according to documents released by the committee.

Under the bill, grants for state and local agencies would total $4.5 billion, an increase of $863 million over the fiscal 2007 allocation and $2 billion over the president's request.

The bulk of the increases go for preparedness grants to ports, which will receive $400 million, and to transit systems, also $400 million. Both programs receive nearly double the amounts budgeted this year, $210 million and $175 million, respectively, and from what the White House requested.

Another large increase will benefit Fire Act and Safer Act fire service grants, which will receive $800 million, up by $500 million from the president's request and $138 million form 2007 amounts.

On the other hand, the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater Systems vessel and systems modernization program would receive $698 million, down from $1.1 billion this year and from $836 million requested by the president. The committee said it will withhold $400 million pending submission of a detailed management and expenditure plan. The Coast Guard has tightened oversight over the $24 billion Deepwater program, which has been hit by allegations of mismanagement, delays and overspending in recent months.

For Customs and Border Patrol, the committee approved $1 billion for the Secure Border Initiative Network border surveillance system consisting of cameras, sensors, towers, fencing and other infrastructure. However, it also said DHS will be required to consult on the border infrastructure with state, local and tribal governments, and with the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, and to minimize impacts on natural resources.

Several programs will experience withholding of funds until various conditions are met. The committee budgeted $225 million for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which is $27 million below the White House request. The panel said it is withholding $100 million until several conditions are met, including completion of testing on the radio frequency identification tag-enabled border crossing cards. Similar RFID technology recently failed in testing for another DHS document program and has been criticized as lacking in privacy protections.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology immigration tracking program will receive $462 million as the president requested, and $99 million more than this year's amount. But $250 million will be held back until Congress receives a plan for tracking when visitors exit or else receives notice from DHS that such a plan is not feasible for five years.

The legislation also requires that grant and contract funds be awarded through full and open competitive processes.

Other programs cited in the legislation include:
  • $777 million for science and technology, down by $22 million from requested amount;
  • $922 million for headquarters projects, down by $72 million from requested amount;
  • $300 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants, up by $100 million from requested;
  • $50 million for Real ID grants; and
  • $50 million for interoperable communication grants.

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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