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Homeland Security Appropriations: Context, Major Features, and Some Key Issues Under the Surface October 27, 2009

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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Guest Blog

Each Tuesday BFAD features a guest blogger- these are experts from a variety of backgrounds writing about what they know best.  This week features David Trulio, Director of Homeland Security Programs at the Raytheon Company, and Senior Fellow of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Homeland Security Appropriations: Context, Major Features, and Some Key Issues Under the Surface

by David Trulio

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations have risen each year since the Department’s creation in 2003.  H.R. 2892, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010 (the Act), now headed to President Obama for his expected signature, provides a net appropriation of $44.14 billion, seven percent more than the $41.21 billion enacted for FY2009, excluding supplemental funding.  ($42.78 billion in discretionary budget authority is provided for FY2010, $2.65 billion over last year’s $40.13 billion.)

The following paragraphs place these appropriations in context, describe major muscle movements of H.R. 2892, and address some key issues not readily apparent from reading the Act, conference report, or conference summary.

Context

DHS is the focus of this piece, but notwithstanding the Department’s vital role in security and the value of understanding the aims and scope of its funding, DHS receives roughly just half of Federal domestic security expenditures.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (the lead federal agency for counterterrorism in the United States), the Justice Department, as well as the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, and State (among others) all play significant roles.  And some of what DHS does (e.g., rescuing recreational boaters) lies outside of homeland security.  To its credit, the Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, has made clear that securing the homeland is a shared responsibility requiring the active involvement of – and, by implication, the spending by – State, local, and Tribal governments, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and individual citizens.

The Act provides a useful but limited window into how DHS will be funded in the future.  Last week, David Norquist, a Partner at Kearney & Company, and the former Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Homeland Security, told me that, “It normally takes a full year to develop the budget, but with a change in administration that process is compressed to a month or two.  So it is likely the enacted 2010 budget only partially reflects the new direction of the new Administration.”

Norquist points to another important source of insight: the Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.  Secretary Janet Napolitano will provide her conclusions from the review to Congress in a final report by December 31, 2009.  Norquist explains that “the results of that review, and the funding shown in the budget and the multiyear FYHSP [Future Years Homeland Security Program] that accompany it, will give a more complete picture of where this administration is headed.”

Major Features

Each of DHS’s seven major operating components receives increased appropriations over 2009.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) receives $10.1 billion (up by $306 million, excluding stimulus funding), including $800 million ($25 million over 2009) for border-related fencing, infrastructure, and technology.  The Border Patrol, which is part of CBP, receives $3.6 billion ($86 million above 2009), a funding level that supports a Border Patrol force of over 20,000 agents, thereby sustaining a large and much needed growth in personnel brought about by the Bush Administration.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) receives $5.4 billion (a hefty increase of $448 million).  $1.5 billion of that is to identify and remove criminal aliens, and included therein is the Secure Communities effort, funded at $200 million ($50 million over 2009), which enables local law enforcement agencies to check fingerprints of individuals in custody against federal databases.  ICE and its Federal and non-Federal partners will welcome the enhanced effectiveness that these increases should enable.  Yet despite its agents’ hard work and dedication, the ICE force of roughly 19,000 is small in light of its vast mission of enforcing the nation’s customs and immigration laws.  Notwithstanding that 12 to 20 million people may be illegally in the United States, the Act provides $135 million for worksite enforcement investigations.

The Transportation Security Administration is funded at $7.7 billion ($679 million above 2009, excluding stimulus funding), with $5.2 billion for aviation security, and just $111 million for surface transportation security.  A strong argument can be made that we are seriously overweighting the former, especially given the progress made in aviation security since 9/11 and the record of train attacks around the world.

The Coast Guard receives $8.8 billion (excluding mandatory funding, and up by $275 million over 2009), and the Secret Service is funded at $1.5 billion (up $70 million over 2009).  $903 million goes for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Management and Administration, $9 million over last year.  United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a preponderantly fee-funded agency, receives an appropriation of $224 million.  E-Verify, the Internet-based system overseen by USCIS that allows an employer, using information reported on an employee’s Form I-9, to determine the eligibility of that employee to work in the United States, was extended for three years, and receives $137 million.

The Act provides $4.2 billion through a variety of grants to first responders and other homeland security partners.  The National Cyber Security Division receives a total of $397 million ($84 million over 2009), with $324 million going to the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team and $64 million to National Cyber Security Division Strategic Initiatives.  The Science and Technology Directorate, the primary research and development arm of DHS, receives $1.0 billion, up $74 million from 2009.

By contrast, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) receives $383 million, down by a significant $131 million.  This reduction reflects the prohibition of full-scale procurement of advanced spectroscopic portal systems until Secretary Napolitano certifies and reports “a significant increase in operational effectiveness” to the Committees on Appropriations.  It is worth noting that the conferees expressed a belief that “DNDO must aggressively pursue its preventive radiation/detection mission, and go beyond addressing the potential threat posed by the use of cargo containers to transport nuclear or radioactive materials or weapons.  It is critical that DNDO prioritize its efforts based on risk, with attention to pathways such as general aviation, the maritime domain, U.S. land borders (including rail and in areas between ports of entry), and urban areas and critical locations in the nation’s interior.”

The Act provides $139 million for DHS’s Office of Health Affairs (OHA), down by $18 million from 2009.  Although the “conferees remain committed to supporting DHS in its task of establishing a viable detection system,” they “remain concerned that plans for this security imperative are adrift;” OHA’s BioWatch program funding was reduced by $22 million to $90 million.  BioWatch funding is to be used to maintain remaining first and second generation biosurveillance capability and to complete third generation prototype unit field testing, perform data analysis, and verify technology performance.

Some Key Issues Under the Surface

Biodefense

The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism stated in December 2008 that, “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”  The Commission concluded, and re-affirmed in its interim report, that “terrorists are more likely to be able to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon.”

At the Federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and DHS are key players in biodefense, but what does not come through in reading the Act or conference report is that we are severely underfunding biodefense.  Last week Dr. Bob Kadlec, Vice President at management consulting firm PRTM, and former Special Assistant to President Bush for Homeland Security and Senior Director for Biodefense Policy at the White House Homeland Security Council, pointed to me that, “As a federal government, we currently spend about three times as much on nuclear defense and twice as much on cybersecurity as we do on biodefense.  Given the magnitude of potential devastation from a biological attack, Congress and the Administration need to take a fresh look at their investments at HHS and DHS in the biodefense area.”

For the federal government, Kadlec believes that “a comprehensive and measured assessment of current efforts and capabilities and how they compare against the threat, vulnerabilities, and consequences should result in dramatically enhanced funding.”  Kadlec rightly points out, however, that simply more money is not a complete answer – Congress, the White House, and departments and agencies should take a more holistic approach to funding that better takes into account how each department or agency fits in the federal and broader (i.e., State, local, non-governmental, and international) biodefense effort.

Kadlec puts this in perspective with a sobering example:  An aerosol release of a biological agent in a single densely populated city could realistically trigger the need to provide antibiotic treatment to over 3 million people.  Approximately 450,000 could fall ill and roughly 380,000 could die, a death toll comparable to the number of Americans killed during World War II.  Decontamination would have to take place city-wide, and the economic cost of such an attack could approach two trillion dollars.  Kadlec explains that “despite substantial progress to date, and the extraordinary efforts of many, HHS and DHS are not where they need to be to prevent such a disaster or minimize its consequences.”

Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)

On its current trajectory, USCIS will likely be put in a very difficult position in the event that Congress takes up and passes CIR legislation in 2010 or 2011.  We can expect CIR to include an attempt to normalize the status of millions of people – possibly as many as 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants – and that will likely entail conducting within one or two years a corresponding number of interviews, background checks, biometrics collections, and fee payment transactions.  Simply put, this is an enormous undertaking, and I’m told by experts that USCIS will have to overcome significant challenges to carry it out.

Past spikes in immigrant applications gave USCIS, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service before it, a tough time.  While USCIS has come a long way, including in terms of technology enhancements and contractor support, it is currently not well positioned for what may be an unprecedented wave of applications at least four times larger than the legalization programs of 1986.  The Obama Administration and Congress should therefore make sure the right steps are taken now to guarantee that USCIS can handle any reasonably foreseeable surge in applications.  While it would not make sense to hire and train a vast staff that would sit idle for an unknown period, for the sake of an orderly and expeditious application process, care should be taken to make sure that proper support contracts and managerial oversight are in place, and that fraud deterrence and detection measures are fully integrated into any approach to large-scale enrollment.

Congressional Oversight

As the Essential Technology Task Force (ETTF) of the Homeland Security Advisory Council pointed out last year, “One of the biggest hurdles to the Department’s ability to mature and effectively address its many homeland security missions is Congress’s inefficient and conflicting oversight process.”  Over eighty Congressional committees and subcommittees have homeland security oversight authority – as the ETTF notes, this contributes to inefficiency and diminished effectiveness in areas such as requirements development, acquisition, and budgeting.  The calls of the ETTF and the 9/11 Commission (among others) to streamline congressional oversight of homeland security to an authorizing committee and a subcommittee on DHS appropriations in both the House and Senate should be heeded.

Conclusion

Much has been accomplished since $29 billion were appropriated to DHS in FY2003.  That America has not been struck by a major terrorist attack since 2001, despite some very close calls, is due to the hard and often very dangerous work of the over 200,000 men and women of DHS, their Federal, non-Federal, and international partners, and the engagement of everyday Americans.  DHS’s FY2010 appropriations keep the forward momentum going, however as a nation it will be important for us to continue thinking boldly and creatively about addressing evolving and subtle threats and challenges.

Policymakers and taxpayers alike must consider how DHS and other security enterprises should be organized and resourced in the coming decades.  What path are we on?  Is it sustainable?  What previously improbable catastrophes (e.g., cyber, bio, an electromagnetic pulse, or a major earthquake) might we realistically face?  What tradeoffs are we willing to live with?  As we examine this year’s appropriations, we must guard against conventional thinking, and resist the temptation to develop future budgets by making incremental changes to the previous year’s appropriations.

David Trulio holds the position of Director, Homeland Security Programs, at Raytheon Company, and is a Senior Fellow of the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) at The George Washington University.  Previously, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the Homeland Security Council at the White House.  The opinions expressed herein are solely his own, and do not reflect those of Raytheon or HSPI.

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