No new HQ for you, DHS

Congress sliced millions of dollars out of the Homeland Security Department budget request for physical and critical infrastructures, including more than $20 million for the chief information office.

The $29.4 billion budget, approved Wednesday and sent to the White House for President Bush's expected signature, did not provide the full funding requested for the CIO shop run by Steve Cooper or for a new building to house the DHS operation.

House and Senate negotiators cut more than $20 million from the $82 million budget requested by the administration for the CIO operation, earmarking $60.5 million for fiscal 2004.

Congress also turned down a $30 million request for a new building and told DHS to modernize its aging complex on Nebraska Avenue in the nation's capital.

"They actually wanted $30 million for a new headquarters. We told them, 'You'll get $20 million to renovate the one you've got,' " said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.

Among the other items deep in the budget bill was $8 million for the public affairs office and $10 million in reward money for tips about terrorist activities. It included a $30,000 cap on overtime per employee and $3 million for locks to secure classified documents.

"Overall we're happy with the bill, and we're going to work with what we've got," said DHS spokeswoman Rachael Sunbarger.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge applauded the budget and said the $1 billion increase over Bush's original request will help make America safer.

"This money will strengthen our border and port security by adding more people, resources and technologies," Ridge said.

But Phil Kiviat, a partner in Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates, a consulting firm, said Cooper's office has been seriously understaffed and underfunded since the beginning.

"If resources come out of the CIO's office, then the office becomes just a policy shop, more a piece of paper than anything else," Kiviat said.


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