Senate pops Homeland funding

The Senate passed a $29.3 billion appropriations bill for the Homeland Security Department July 24 that adds new money for a variety of high-tech systems and orders reports on others before they are implemented.

House and Senate negotiators will try to reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions of the first DHS appropriations bill after lawmakers take an August vacation. The spending bill was approved 93-1, with Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), casting the lone dissent because he wanted more money for port security.

The major difference in the bills is that the Senate version provides no money for President Bush's Project BioShield, an $890 million program to develop new technologies to combat biological warfare.

While Democrats failed to tack on another $1 billion to the bill, they did succeed on a number of nonmonetary issues. The Senate adopted a proposal to hold up funding on a controversial screening program for airline passengers until it is studied more.

Lawmakers also approved a plan to review DHS' color-coded nationwide terrorist alert system that has come under fire because it is so costly to local communities each time the alert system is elevated. And they ordered a report on the vulnerabilities of large sports and entertainment facilities.

Democrats succeeded in getting $100 million to enhance security at public transit facilities against chemical and biological weapons. The bill also included spending for such items as explosive detection systems at airports, high-tech inspection equipment to scan trucks crossing U.S. borders and computer systems to better track foreign visitors in the United States.

"There are many ways we can allocate and spend resources to try to upgrade our capability of protecting our nation's homeland," said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. "We're not going to measure the success of this bill by whether we spend as much as we can."

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) unsuccessfully proposed adding $1.75 billion to the legislation because "protecting this nation's communities is not easy. It is not cheap, and it cannot wait." His proposal was defeated.

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