Congress passes DHS spending

Congress gave final approval late Wednesday to the first Homeland Security appropriations bill, which includes money for just about everything except screening cargo shipped on passenger jets.

The legislation, which now goes to President Bush for his signature, includes a hefty $29.4 billion for fiscal 2004 to fund protection for the nation's borders, support state and local first responders, upgrade transportation security and develop innovative antiterrorism technologies. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the money "will strengthen our border and port security by adding more people, resources and technologies."

But Democrats said the funds were insufficient to keep America safe.

"You can't win a war without troops, technology and supplies," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. "Yet the Department of Homeland Security is being asked to win the war on terrorism at home with troops that are stretched too thin. This package falls far short because this administration is unwilling to fight for what it really takes to secure our homeland."

Despite the fact that it is $1 billion more than President Bush requested, the spending bill includes no money to screen cargo loaded aboard passenger planes — an estimated 22 percent of all air cargo. Instead, the bill includes $55 million to develop new screening technologies.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who pushed unsuccessfully for the air cargo screening, called it a "gaping hole in aviation security."

"The ability of a terrorist to ship explosives or themselves in a box completely unscreened and uninspected is dangerous and inexcusable," Markey said.

The funding bill, which came out of a House and Senate conference committee Sept. 17, includes $125 million for inspection technologies and operations for vehicles and cargo, $61.7 million for the Container Security Initiative and $215.6 million for border and airspace security.

It also calls for $5.2 billion for the Transportation Security Administration. That includes $1.8 billion for passenger screening and $1.3 billion for baggage screening efforts, including $250 million to install explosive-detection systems.

The bill also includes $918 million to develop radiological, nuclear, chemical, biological and high-explosive countermeasures, and funding for the rapid development of homeland security technologies.

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