In DHS appropriations, Senate gives Real ID thumbs down

Border security got an extra $3 billion, but Real ID spending took a hit, in Senate action on the Homeland Security Department fiscal 2008 appropriations bill yesterday.

The Senate passed the DHS spending bill with an amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to add $3 billion in emergency spending for border security.

The money would pay for 105 ground-based radar and camera towers and four unmanned aerial vehicles, expected to be part of the department's Secure Border Initiative Network border surveillance network. It also pays for 23,000 more border guards, 300 miles of vehicle barriers and 700 miles of border fencing.

Before Senate passage, the White House threatened a veto in objection to the spending levels in the bill. House and Senate spending bills for DHS also must be reconciled before a final budget is adopted.

In addition, despite urging from governors to provide federal funds for the Real ID Act of 2005, the Senate voted against an amendment that would have allocated $300 million for implementation of the act.

The amendment was offered as part of the fiscal 2008 Homeland Security appropriations bill by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in what he termed a down payment toward the $11 billion price tag for Real ID over five years.

"This is a massive unfunded federal mandate on the states," Alexander said in a floor statement on July 25. "Some in Washington have a bad habit of taking credit for an idea and then sending the bill to the states and letting the governors worry about how they will pay for it. That is why to date 17 states ? including Tennessee ? have passed legislation opposing the Real ID Act. I believe Congress has the responsibility to find the money to pay for this or repeal it."

The National Governors Association expressed support for federal funding of Real ID at its annual meeting last weekend. "If Congress is truly committed to transforming Real ID into a reasonable and workable law that actually increases the security of our citizens, it must commit the federal funds necessary to implement this federal mandate," the NGA said in a statement. "The nation's governors urge senators to support Sen. Lamar Alexander's efforts to begin funding the mandates imposed by Real ID."

Alexander's amendment would have funded the Real ID act by cutting DHS programs across-the-board by 0.8 percent. The Real ID Act requires states to meet national standards for producing driver's licenses and for storing and sharing information on the licenses.

It was cosponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine); George Voinovich (R-Ohio); and John Warner (R-Va.).

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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