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FY 2011 Budget Request May Represent a Turning Point for Homeland Security March 23, 2010

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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Each Tuesday BFAD features a guest blogger- these are experts from a variety of backgrounds writing about what they know best.  This week features William Johnstone, Senior Advisor at the Partnership for a Secure America and task force member of the Unified Security Budget project.

by William Johnstone

The events of September 11, 2001 dramatically altered the national mindset and produced a massive increase in policy attention and funding for what is collectively referred to as “homeland security.” As calculated by OMB, total federal spending for this mission doubled in one year, from $20.6 billion in FY 2002 to $41.3 billion in FY 2003, and has increased regularly ever since, reaching $70.8 billion in FY 2010. Such a rapid build-up in resources would pose significant challenges in accountability and performance under the best of circumstances, but those tasks have been made much more difficult by the accompanying enormity of the changes in the organization of federal homeland security activities.

Most importantly, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security out of 22 separate federal agencies.  Each brought a distinct institutional culture, and some, such as the Coast Guard, include substantial responsibilities outside of the traditional homeland security mission.  Taken together, such non-homeland security programs comprise over a third of the DHS budget.

Just as DHS’ budget authority is not exclusive to homeland security, U.S. spending on homeland security is not limited to DHS – or even consolidated into a single budgetary account.  Rather, homeland security programs are scattered across all 17 federal budget functions.  Taken together, DHS’ budget accounts for just 51% of all homeland security spending.

Such a convoluted distribution of homeland security funds hampers efforts at accountability.  Those efforts are further compromised by the way in which Congressional oversight is dispersed among a number of committees in both the House and Senate. A number of outside groups have called for consolidating such oversight.  Most prominently, the 9/11 Commission concluded that, “of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important.”  Yet despite this admonishment, each chamber’s homeland security authorization and appropriations panels lack exclusive authority over these activities.

Overview of the FY2011 Request

The President’s FY 2011 budget called for increasing total homeland security funding by 2.4% above FY 2010 (to $72.5 billion) and 3.1% for the non-DOD portion (to $53.4 billion).  Response to the attempted December attack on Northwest Flight 253 shaped this request significantly.  In so doing, the FY 2011 request continues the long-standing, pre-9/11 pattern of incident-driven, reactive security.  At the Transportation Security Administration, for instance, virtually all of the proposed increase is in the field of passenger aviation security.  An extra $529 million was sought to purchase, install, staff, and support an additional 500 “Advanced Imaging Technology” (whole body imaging) units for airport checkpoints.

Areas that have not experienced a recent incident, however, see lesser increases. TSA requested a $27 million increase for its land transportation programs, but to a total of only $138 million.  Likewise, the Coast Guard’s port, waterways, and coastal security account is to be cut by $101 million, to $1.7 billion, under the Administration’s proposal.

Remarkably, several underperforming programs also request increased budgets this year, though not necessarily with the oversight to match.  The Office of Health Affairs BioWatch program, which monitors for biological or chemical weapons attacks, is scheduled to grow by $84 million in spite of the discontinuation of a pilot program in New York City due to technical problems.  DHS’ radiological and nuclear detection systems likewise requested an increase, by $41 million, in spite of the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal program, which purchases machines that screen cargo and vehicles for nuclear materials, being dropped for cost and effectiveness reasons.

Assessment

Under the circumstances of their creation and evolution, it should not be surprising that DHS, its component parts, and the other agencies involved in homeland security have struggled to effectively manage the vastly increased resources and expanded responsibilities they have received since 2001.  Their many shortcomings have been noted over a number of years and in numerous independent analyses by the Government Accountability Office, the Inspectors General of DHS and the Justice Department, the Partnership for Public Service and the Trust for America’s Health.  A holistic view of the situation thus led the Unified Security Budget task force to conclude that, “our homeland security problems are as much a function of bureaucratic incoherence as inadequate funding” (See pp. 57-59).

The country has reached an important juncture in homeland security. The dire overall budgetary outlook will inevitably have an impact on future funding levels. Indeed, the Administration’s original, pre-December 2009 projections called for reductions in DHS spending throughout the FY 2011-2014 period. The regular, substantial increases that have been the rule since 2001 will not likely return. It is, therefore, more vital than ever that policy-makers in the Congress as well as the Executive Branch move decisively to improve priority-setting and performance measurement in the homeland security field. We literally cannot afford anything less.

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