Aviation Security UP, Border Security Down In DHS Fiscal 2011 Budget Proposal

Aviation Security Up, Border Security Down in DHS Fiscal 2011 Budget Proposal

By Mickey McCarter
HSToday, February 2, 2010

Overall discretionary funds would increase by 3% in budget driven by aviation security

The White House proposed Monday a fiscal 2011 budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that boosts aviation security spending in response to threats like the Christmas Day bombing attack while cutting funds for the department's controversial border security technology program.

Overall, DHS would receive $56.3 billion total in fiscal 2011 under the White House budget, an increase of 2 percent over levels enacted in fiscal 2010. DHS would have $43.6 billion in net discretionary spending in the proposal, an increase of 3 percent over levels enacted in fiscal 2010, explained DHS Acting Chief Financial Officer Peggy Sherry in a Monday conference call with reporters.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) emerged as one of the big focal points of the budget proposal with a proposed $8.2 billion in funding, a 7 percent increase over fiscal 2010.

The Congressional Budget Justification FY 2011 submitted by DHS to US lawmakers made explicit references to the Christmas Day bombing attack on Northwest Flight 253 by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day.

'Aviation continues to be a target of coordinated terrorist activity. Examples include the attempted attack of a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, an alleged terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives onboard multiple aircraft departing from the United Kingdom for the United States in August 2006, and terrorists' intended attacks on US-bound flights originating from multiple foreign airports in December 2003,' the report stated.

Under the 2011 budget proposal, TSA would receive an additional $214.7 million for 500 whole body imaging devices at airport checkpoints to screen for non-metallic materials such as the PETN explosive carried by Abdulmutallab. The budget would fund TSA with a total of $734 million for the procurement and deployment of up to 1,000 whole body imagers. The budget also would provide about $219 million for additional transportation security officers to operate the scanners.

'Combined with the 500 deployments that are already planned through 2010, this appropriation will place this technology in 75 percent of the country's largest airports,' Sherry told reporters.

A DHS official explained on background that about 75 percent of high-risk US airports would receive advanced imaging technology by the end of fiscal 2011 under the budget plan. The second tier of airports by risk would receive 60 percent coverage from the deployment of about 1,000 whole body imaging devices through the end of 2011.

The White House budget would increase the budget of the Federal Air Marshal Service by $85 million, acknowledging that more air marshals are required on high-risk international flights such as Flight 253. TSA also would receive an increase of $60 million for about 8,000 explosive trace detection machines–new portable devices, according to officials–and an increase of $71 million for 275 explosive detection canine teams at checkpoints.

TSA would receive another $374 million for new explosives detection systems to screen checked passenger baggage.

Border security, on the other hand, would receive some cuts in the proposed fiscal 2011 budget. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would receive about $11.2 billion, a decrease of 2 percent from fiscal 2010 levels.

The budget would provide border security, fencing, infrastructure, and technology–to include the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) program–with $574 million, down from $800 million in fiscal 2010.

But another DHS official, speaking on background, said that does not truly represent a cut for the overall program. Rather a slowed testing and deployment schedule prompted DHS to consider providing SBInet with less money in fiscal 2011.

'The funding that was originally programmed into the fiscal year 2011 baseline that is being reduced puts forth further deployments in different geographic areas along the Border, assuming it is rolling along the previously projected path. The funding, what is in there, continues what we call block one of the project, basically future releases are not funded in this budget,' the official said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is currently reviewing the project to determine if any changes are necessary going forward, the official added.

CBP also would get $44.8 million to support staff at its Office of Field Operations. Another $10 million would go to expanding the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces that Napolitano established along the US southwest border in 2009.

In fiscal 2009, DHS officials sometimes warned that the DHS budget proposals in fiscal 2011 and on could bring some budget cuts. But a DHS official told HSToday.us that DHS budgets, as proposed, would grow at about the rate of inflation in the outyears of the Obama administration.

'As part of the budget process, we examined different scenarios and options. Those are discussions that are internal to the Administration and what you see in the budget release today is the end product of all those budget deliberations, which is a three percent increase for fiscal year 2011 and continues roughly modest growth roughly at the rate of inflation in the outer years,' the official said.

Mixed reception

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was pleased with the fiscal 2011 budget proposal.

'Given the current fiscal environment, I am pleased that the President saw fit to ask for $56 billion for the Department of Homeland Security for its ongoing efforts at deterring, detecting, preventing, and responding to terrorism and other threats,' Thompson said in a statement Monday.

Thompson approved of additional investments in aviation security, including the procurement of whole body imaging devices and explosive trace detection equipment. He also endorsed expanding the air marshal force and acquiring more canine teams.

Funding for staffing at US land ports, research and development for cybersecurity, and immigration enforcement in the Secure Communities Program also struck Thompson as justified.

However, he expressed disappointment over proposed cuts to specific grant programs.

'At the same time, I am disappointed that the President's budget reduces funding for a variety of grant programs, including much needed assistance to our firefighters, and fails to provide the necessary resources for DHS to meet its international cargo screening requirements,' Thompson said.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, slammed the budget as wholly inadequate for US security needs.

'Every day our nation is under attack,' Rogers protested in a statement Monday. 'Whether it is a terrorist attempting to blow up a plane, a vicious drug lord raging war along our border, or a foreign national trying to hack into our national security systems, we face persistent threats that are only increasing.

'Despite these glaring facts, the administration has put forward an alarming and self-centered budget that is woefully lacking in many critical areas,' Rogers added.

Rogers accused the White House of slashing research funds, reducing US Border Patrol agents, and cutting Coast Guard personnel.

DHS officials acknowledged in the Monday conference call that the budget would decrease US Coast Guard personnel by about 1,100 and US Border Patrol agents by about 180 agents. Officials argued the cuts in personnel, which would occur through natural attrition, provide those agencies with the right mix of personnel, technology, and infrastructure to fulfill the department's missions in fiscal 2011.

The fiscal 2011 budget also would provide $200 million for security at civilian trials for 9/11 conspirators such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed–which Rogers blasted a 'slush fund to house terrorists on American soil.'

Rogers and other Republicans adamantly oppose moving Mohammed and other terrorists from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and providing them with trials in the US civilian court system rather than in US military tribunals.

'We've been down this road before. By cutting major operational assets while at the same time providing significant increases for the secretary's personal office and staff, the President has all but guaranteed his homeland security budget dead on arrival,' Rogers declared.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also opposed cuts to US Coast Guard personnel and funding security for civilian trials for terrorists.

But, Lieberman said in a statement Monday, the budget appropriately reflected tough economic times while balancing US security needs. He praised the additional $900 million total proposed for boosting aviation security in the proposed budget.

'Difficult budget decisions must be made, and I offer my support to the President and his administration for making those difficult decisions,' Lieberman said.