DHS seeks more dollars for border tech

The Homeland Security Department (DHS) told congressional appropriators today that more money is needed in fiscal 2004 for high-tech devices and solutions to tighten U.S. borders at seaports, airports and on land.

Robert Bonner, commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which is part of DHS, said the White House is seeking $338.2 million for the bureau to prevent terrorists and their weapons from entering the United States.

The money would be used to continue funding programs such as the Container Security Initiative, which involves inspecting cargo before it leaves a foreign port, as well as deploying new technologies to detect conventional explosives and weapons of mass destruction.

"These funds will continue to support the automation and information technology programs that will improve overall operations of the agency, and the traditional missions for which the [agency] is responsible," Bonner told the Senate Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee.

Noting that terrorist threats are still very real, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, the ranking Democrat on the committee, criticized the Transportation Security Administration for its plans to lay off 6,000 airport screeners. And he suggested that the Bush administration is trying to cut spending on essential programs to secure the homeland.

"We cannot secure the homeland on the cheap," Byrd said. "Either we are serious about securing the homeland, or we are engaged" in a public relations strategy.

Byrd said he is concerned that the White House has not turned over to the committee its spending plans for fiscal 2004, including the original requests for funding from the various agencies.

Bonner told Byrd he would try his best to get the information to the committee and make sure members get the answers they seek

James Loy, TSA administrator, told the subcommittee that the agency is close to completing a national transportation security plan that would include pipelines, air, rail, highway and maritime security.

As part of that, he said TSA is seeking $35 million in fiscal 2004 to develop the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS) II, an automated threat assessment tool that screens passengers by combing databases for information about them.

"We are aware of privacy concerns with this system, and are building strong privacy protections into the system to address those concerns," Loy said.

Nevertheless, "it will be the most significant tool we build," he said.

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