Critics: Senate ignores some DHS priorities

Funding limited for critical cybersecurity, info-sharing needs

Senate FY2006 budget bill report

The Senate passed a $30.8 billion budget bill for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2006 last week that would increase spending on many information technology and technology-related programs.

But the Senate bill would cut or eliminate funds for cybersecurity, critical infrastructure protection and information sharing — responsibilities that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, many former and current DHS officials and industry groups say are critical to improving the department.

The Senate approved its version of the DHS budget bill by a vote of 96-1. It would provide $1.2 billion more than President Bush's budget request. It would give substantially less than the $34.2 billion bill the House approved in May and $1.2 billion less than the department received for fiscal 2005. The spending bills now go to conference committee.

The House version includes extra money for DHS' Office of the Chief Information Officer. That's a positive sign, said Jennifer Kerber, director of homeland security for the IT Association of America. Technology can help DHS meet its goals, and the CIO should play a vital role, she said.

"ITAA and its members prefer the funding levels in the House bill in several key areas," Kerber said. It also provides money to expand the procurement office, she said.

The Senate bill reflects DHS' current structure and not the changes and priorities that Chertoff outlined earlier this month in his department reorganization plan, said Alan Balutis, president and chief executive officer of Input's Government Strategies unit.

The bill includes $870 million for the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate, which is responsible for cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection. Cybersecurity efforts would get $73.3 million. Another $74.3 million would go for assessments of the risk and vulnerability of critical infrastructure, which equals the funding suggested by the president.

To protect the nation's critical infrastructure, $126.6 million will create partnerships and share information with critical infrastructure owners, $60 million will identify and mitigate risks and vulnerabilities, and $91.4 million will develop and implement protections.

Even so, not everyone supports the bill. DHS should be spending 100 times more on cybersecurity, particularly for critical infrastructure protection, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. "The dollars are absolutely disproportional to the level of the threat," he said.

The bill also cuts or excludes money for risk management programs and information sharing, the cornerstone of Chertoff's reorganization. DHS' Science and Technology Directorate would see its threat and vulnerability assessment spending cut from $65.8 million in fiscal 2005 to $40 million in fiscal 2006. Its rapid prototyping program would be cut from $76 million to $20.9 million. Cybersecurity would drop from $18 million to $16.7 million. The Office of Interoperability and Compatibility would get $15 million, down from $21 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee did not include requested increases for a metadata solutions center, a solutions engineering center or a center for the continued development and implementation of smart card technology. The CIO should use existing resources to create such centers, committee members wrote. The centers play an essential role in helping DHS improve information sharing, Kerber said. They also are key initiatives supporting a departmentwide enterprise architecture, Balutis added.


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Budgeting for change

If Congress doesn't endorse Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff's proposed restructuring before it approves DHS' budget, the department will have to submit significant reprogramming to match the new structure, said Alan Balutis, president and chief executive officer of Input's Government Strategies unit. That will delay DHS' functioning under the new structure and postpone any potential benefits, he added.

The Office of Management and Budget, the appropriations committees, and DHS' undersecretary for management have a lot of work to do to reconcile the budget with Chertoff's recommendations, Balutis said.

DHS still faces challenges as the biggest government reorganization since the creation of the Defense Department, and it took decades to get DOD to work right, Balutis said. The first two or three years of a new department's existence are a crucial time to set it up to work well, he said. "This is a real pivotal time to get these things right and functioning," Balutis added.

— Michael Arnone

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