House panel approves Homeland budget

The House Appropriations Committee June 17 approved a $29.4 billion fiscal 2004 budget for the Homeland Security Department — $1 billion more than President Bush requested.

The money includes funding for first responders as well as grants for state and local governments, and $9 billion for border protection.

The border protection money has $2 billion earmarked for the U.S. Coast Guard, which is taking a higher profile in homeland security efforts. It also includes $530 million for the agency's Deepwater initiative, which seeks to modernize the Coast Guard's fleet of cutters.

The legislation now goes to the full House for action. Lawmakers hope to get the legislation through the House and the Senate before their summer recess and the money flowing to DHS by September.

At a conference this morning on homeland security financing sponsored by BearingPoint Inc., Bill Hoagland, budget director for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said the Senate would begin work on its version of the legislation June 24 and hopes to have a vote on it by mid-July.

He predicted the Senate version would be similar to the House version — "maybe a little less but not much." He also predicted that lawmakers would add funding for their own states earmarked for first responders.

In approving the House legislation, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), Appropriations Committee Chairman, said the legislation acknowledged the importance of state and local governments and the private sector in partnership with the federal government.

It also recognizes that many agencies that merged into DHS still have traditional missions that must continue.

Highlights of the House Appropriations bill:

* $1.9 billion for the Office for Domestic Preparedness' basic formula grant program.

* $100 million for the Transportation Security Administration's port security grants.

* $129 million for inspection technologies for vehicles and cargo.

* 5.1 billion for TSA, including $1.7 billion for passenger screening.

* $900 million for science and technology — $97 million above the president's request.

* $918 million to modernize border, customs and immigration technology, including * $350 million for the US VISIT program and $318 million for the Automated Commercial Environment to modernize the Customs import network.

Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved two bills June 17 to streamline the homeland security grant process for states, communities and first responders and to restructure the Pentagon's civilian personnel system.

"The Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act will promote the same kind of coordination among federal agencies that we require from our states and communities," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the panel. "It will require federal agencies to build a straight path to the funding that enables our first responders to do what they do best — prepare for and respond to emergencies."

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