Budget boosts Homeland funding

President Bush sent Congress a $2.23 trillion budget request for fiscal 2004 today that spells out how he wants to spend money and use technology to build the new Homeland Security Department.

With domestic security a top priority, Bush requested $36.2 billion for the new department, up nearly 10 percent from 2003. The money would help organize the department and provide safeguards against terrorist threats, such as chemical and biological attacks.

Among Bush's priorities: unifying multiple field structures into one regional reporting structure as well as integrating existing border security and interior enforcement functions.

He also called for improving information sharing and counterterrorism cooperation governmentwide.

"Communication and information sharing is essential to preventing another terrorist attack," the budget request said. "The goal is to have modern information technology systems that efficiently and effectively support homeland security missions, enhance productivity, facilitate information sharing and generate budgetary savings."

The homeland security money request included:

* $500 million to assess the nation's critical infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants, and eliminate security gaps.

* $350 million in new money for the research, development and testing of homeland security projects, such as nuclear and bioterrorism detection technologies.

* $373 million for border security and trade initiatives, including technology investments along the border.

* $3.5 billion for the Office of Domestic Preparedness to train and equip first responders.

The budget also included a giant leap in funding for information analysis and infrastructure protection, from $177 million in fiscal 2003 to $823 million for fiscal 2004.

Bush's budget for the new agency continues to build on the infrastructure already established—such as the Advance Passenger Information System and the entry/exit system to track visitors entering the United States. He also asked for an additional $500 million for border and port security.

The fiscal 2004 budget also includes $803 million for science and technology activities—an eight-fold increase in funding over last year's budget. It includes a $12 million increase from $3.5 million for homeland security standards development related to biometric identification, threat detection and high-rise safety.

"[The Department of Homeland Security] will develop and implement a long-term research and development program that includes investment in revolutionary capabilities with high payoff potential," the budget said.

Nevertheless, the budget plan for research and development came under criticism from representatives of technology groups who said it was not nearly enough money.

"The president's fiscal year 2004 budget request to Congress will include over $59 billion for IT projects in the federal government," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

"We encourage the administration to continue to show its technology savvy by requesting the nearly $268 million authorized last year for fiscal year 2003-2004 cybersecurity research and development, and we urge Congress to appropriate the funds this year," Miller said.

One of the big questions for the Homeland Security Department is not how much is being spent, but whether it is being spent in the right places, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels Jr. said today.

Information security is a good example. Daniels said he wouldn't be surprised if Secretary Tom Ridge and his advisory group at the department increased the amount of money going to cybersecurity. "It may be a greater relative threat than some of the things we are investing in now," Daniels said.

Diane Frank contributed to this report.

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