Senate blasts DHS funding plan

Several senators criticized a new funding formula proposed in next year’s budget that they say would dramatically reduce base funding for smaller states and localities. But the new Homeland Security Department secretary stressed that the risk-based funding will focus on vulnerabilities, threats and consequences.

Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said that although state governments and local communities have made enormous progress, they heavily depend on federal funding for preparedness, training and interoperable communications.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the committee, said smaller states would see an 80 percent cut according to the proposed fiscal 2006 budget.

“That’s not just a small drop,” she said. “That’s a leap off the cliff.”

The new DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff, testifying for the second time on Capitol Hill in a week, said the department wants to move from a population-based funding formula to a risk-based one, which depends on criteria such as the nature of critical infrastructure and proximity to borders.

“The issue is not where state lines are drawn,” he said. “The issue is where are the vulnerabilities, where are the consequences.”

He said the department wants communities to pool their operations in an area for shared services. For instance, if an area centralized responses for certain chemical emergencies, officials could purchase hazardous material suits for that area instead of giving them to each community. He said the department wants to maximize resources to get the most effective deployment.

Chertoff, recently confirmed as DHS secretary, is conducting a comprehensive review of DHS’ operations and policies during the next few months to “better understand what is working and what is not.”

Rail, mass transit and other nonaviation modes of transportation are not getting the financial attention they need, said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who recently requested that Congress increase the Bush administration’s homeland appropriations by $8.4 billion.

The Urban Area Security Initiative program, which allocates funding for municipalities with a population of 225,000 or greater, doesn’t make sense because smaller cities could be targeted by terrorists, Lieberman said. Chertoff said he would review that threshold.

Other senators complained that funding for their states or localities would be cut dramatically. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said New Jersey would see a $32 million decrease in homeland funding, while Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said Arkansas’ federal homeland security funding would drop $16 million next year. Pryor said his staff has heard suggestions that states cannot count on a minimum funding guarantee.

“Rumors abound, and I have no way to address it,” Chertoff replied.

Collins asked why DHS has three around-the-clock operations centers when one would do. She cited the Homeland Security Operations Center, the National Infrastructure Coordinating Center and a cybersecurity center.

Chertoff said the three centers are necessary because they play distinct roles. He said the cybersecurity center looks at cyber intrusions and interacts with the private sector. The infrastructure center allows communication with all types of critical infrastructure owners. The operations center doesn’t deal with the level of detail that the other two centers do but looks at the larger picture. He said there should be three separate facilities with built-in redundancies in case one center loses power.


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