House approves $34.9B for homeland security

The omnibus spending bill approved by the House of Representatives yesterday includes $34.9 billion in baseline funding for the Homeland Security Department in fiscal 2008 and boosts major departmental information technology contracting efforts focused on U.S. Visit and the Real ID Act of 2005.

The legislation contains funding not only for large business opportunities for IT contractors at the federal level, but also a wide variety of grants programs that offer additional opportunities.

The legislation allocates an additional $2.7 billion for emergency spending for border security, of which $1.6 billion will pay for 370 miles of fencing and for portions of the Secure Border Initiative surveillance system being constructed along the U.S. borders. SBInet uses cameras, radar and other sensors mounted on towers and linked with border patrol communications. Details on how the funding is to be divided among the various border programs was not immediately available.

The omnibus bill also pushes back the deadline for implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to June 1, 2009. Under the controversial initiative, Canadians, Mexicans and other visitors must show one of several specific identification documents to enter the United States by land. Thousands of documents previously were considered acceptable for gaining entry. Under the bill, the initiative will receive $225 million, which is $27 million below the president's request.

"It is important that we strike a balance between the security of our nation's borders and the free flow of commerce and travel to and from the United States," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "The delay of this initiative is welcome news."

The Senate is expected to endorse the comprehensive $516 billion spending package tomorrow.

The omnibus bill calls for $475 million for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (U.S. Visit), program that collects fingerprints from foreign visitors. That amount is $113 million above fiscal 2007 levels and $13 million more than the president requested. However, $125 million is withheld until the department submits a schedule for tracking visitor exits from the country.

The legislation sets aside $50 million for helping states to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005, which was not requested by the president. Under the new law, states must meet new requirements for collecting, storing, publishing and sharing personal information on driver's licenses.

For cybersecurity protections, the House has approved $210 million, more than double the $82 million budget last year. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff indicated this month that a cybersecurity strategy for the nation is a top priority for 2008.

The Coast Guard's Deepwater modernization program will receive $137 million below the request, including rescissions, according to a news release from the appropriations committee. The amount was not immediately available. The $24 billion program, which is the primary vehicle for replacing aging boats in the Coast Guard fleet, has been criticized by government investigators after a number of new ships were rejected due to structural problems. The House decided that $300 million would be withheld pending submission of a detailed management and expenditure plan.

According to the House Appropriations Committee, DHS' spending level in the bill exceeds the president's budget request for fiscal 2008 of $34.3 billion. It also surpasses the $31.9 billion enacted budget and the $1.8 billion in emergency border security funding for fiscal 2007, the committee said in the news release.

The bill provides for first-responder and preparedness grants. The state grants include:
  • $950 million for law enforcement
  • $820 million for urban areas
  • $400 million for port security
  • $400 million for transit
  • $300 million for emergency management
  • $750 million for the Fire Act
  • $60 million for interagency port security operational centers
  • $50 million for interoperable communications
  • $41 million for metropolitan medical response systems
  • $35 million for regional catastrophic preparedness

The $400 million for port security is $190 million above the 2007 level.

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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