House plays hardball with DHS dollars

The Homeland Security Department had better do its homework if it expects to get its allowance.

That is the warning that the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee sent out on May 10 when it unanimously approved a bill that would cut or withhold about $800 million from DHS' fiscal 2006 budget.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the subcommittee's chairman, said that the Homeland Security Department has not completed many key tasks and reports that Congress has asked it to do.

"The department has been a reluctant partner and has ignored requests for information and direction to move expeditiously in the implementation of important national policies and goals," Rogers said in a statement. "The Department will find that the lack of information has cost them. It's a simple equation: no information equals no money."

DHS spokeswoman Valerie Smith said that the department will continue to work as quickly as possible to meet reporting requirements. She declined to comment further on the bill, other than to say that the department has asked Congress to prioritize the desired reports.

The bill would provide $30.8 billion in discretionary funds, $1.4 billion more than fiscal 2005 and $1.3 billion more than President Bush asked for in his budget request last February.

In its current version, the measure would cut about $487 million because the department has not yet performed certain actions. More than $310 million would be held up until the department submits key reports and enacts key new initiatives.

The hammer would fall hardest on the U.S. Coast Guard's Deepwater modernization program. Because officials have not updated program's strategic plans to reflect post-9/11 realities, the subcommittee would cut funding for Deepwater back to pre-9/11 levels -- $466 million to $500 million, Rogers said.

The Coast Guard would also lose an additional $5 million for "lack of responsiveness" and have $50 million held back until it submitted the new plans, Rogers said.

Also, the bill would delay the delivery of hundreds of millions of dollars to other DHS agencies until certain overdue projects are completed, including:

• $70 million withheld from Customs and Border Protection until it submits a report on the Container Security Initiative;

• $50 million from the Transportation Security Administration until DHS provides a report and spending plan on installing explosives detection systems at airports;

• $50 million held back in salaries and expenses to Immigration and Customs Enforcement until the agency submits a national detention management plan.

The bill specifically targets the office of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff for $50 million in withholdings. About $20 million would be released when the department issues a plan to cut illegal immigration by 10 percent a year, and another $20 million when all late reports are submitted.

About $10 million would come when the department starts implementing new air cargo screening procedures. That ties into a $100,000-a-day reduction in appropriations for TSA until it triples its cargo screening capacity.

Within 90 days of passing the budget, Chertoff would also have to submit a security plan that would once again permit general aviation aircraft to use Ronald Reagan National Airport.

First responders would get $3.6 billion through the bill, the same as the president's request. The subcommittee, however, wants to see at least 10 percent of basic formula grants and grants to high-threat urban areas go to emergency medical services providers.

Also new under the bill would be the disbursement of some funds according to risk, vulnerability, and need. That would be in line with Chertoff’s new mandate for risk-based priorities that is driving an ongoing departmentwide review.

The full House Appropriations Committee will start reviewing the bill on May 17.

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