Senate committee passes higher DHS budget

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $37.6 billion spending package for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2008 that increases money for ports and mass transit, maintains Deepwater support and fully funds the Secure Border Initiative Network, but with conditions.

The committee-approved budget is $2.2 billion more than the White House request, according to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, committee chairman.

"For far too long, the Bush Administration has funded the department with spare change rather than real dollars. We must invest in the technology and personnel that will make the department second to none," said Byrd in a prepared statement.

Under the bill, grants for port security would rise to $400 million, from $210 million this year, which will help pay for items such as perimeter fencing, underwater detection systems and camera surveillance systems, Byrd said in the release.

Mass transit systems also would get $400 million, up from $175 million this year. The port and mass transit funding increases are the same as what was reported in the legislation approved by the House Appropriations Committee on June 5.

The secure border network, known as SBI-Net, which includes cameras and sensors along with fences, would receive the $1 billion requested by the president.

But due to ongoing concerns about high-risk contractor driven programs, the committee is withholding $500 million from SBI-Net until an expenditure plan is submitted and approved, according to Byrd.

Deepwater will receive $827 million in the Senate spending bill, down from $1.1 billion this year and $836 million requested by the president. The House bill, on the other hand, trims Deepwater funding to $698 million.

The Senate legislation includes several provisions regarding management at DHS, notably a requirement for the Coast Guard to provide an independent assessment of acquisition staffing requirements for major procurement programs.

The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office to investigate use of federal contractors to fill federal employee positions at DHS. DHS would have to develop a plan to meet Federal Information Security Management Act requirements and would be forbidden to spend allocated funds on additional reorganizations without congressional approval.

The bill still has a long way to go. The full Senate must pass it, the House must pass its version, and then the bills will have to be reconciled through the standard Congressional conference process before the President will have the opportunity to sign it or veto it.

The House Appropriations Committee on June 5 said it approved a $36.3 billion spending bill for DHS for next year that is $2.1 billion more than the White House requested. Information was not immediately available to clarify each spending item in each bill.

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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