House passes DHS budget

The Homeland Security Department would get $34.2 billion in fiscal 2006 under a bill that received almost unanimous approval in the House.

By a vote of 424 to 4, House members approved a bill that, among other things, aims to improve information sharing within DHS and with other federal, state and local agencies. It would also accelerate the development of new technologies and make cybersecurity a greater priority.

Spending in the bill includes:

* $826.9 million to create a Screening Coordination and Operations Office.

* $133.8 million for the Container Security Initiative, part of which will go to evaluate foreign ports that seek to implement the initiative.

* $40.5 million to the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility to help it establish a national strategy to ensure interoperability.

* $19 million for research and development of new technologies to augment cybersecurity.

* $10.6 million to develop new anti-terrorist technologies for use with the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, designed to protect inventors from being sued if their technology works properly but injures or kills someone accidentally.

The bill would provide for the creation of an assistant secretary for cybersecurity in the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) Directorate. The new position, which would replace the current director of the National Cybersecurity Division, would oversee that division and the National Communications System.

The changes were inspired in part by a bill, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2005, which the House Homeland Security Committee's Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity Subcommittee unanimously approved in April.

That bill seeks the creation of a single system to perform background checks for individuals using multiple screening programs, such as Free and Secure Trade, Registered Traveler, and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. This would save applicants time, money and effort and reduce the collection of redundant information.

The measure also contains many provisions to speed the creation and distribution of new anti-terrorism technology. The department’s Science and Technology Directorate is now required to start operating the DHS Technology Clearinghouse within 90 days of the approval of the final budget.

The clearinghouse would identify promising technologies, modify them for homeland security use and disseminate the information to federal, state and local agencies; first responders; and the private sector.

The House also wants to help DHS compete better with other intelligence agencies in recruiting the most sought-after intelligence analysts. The bill would authorize the secretary to approve recruitment bonuses of up to 50 percent of the position's annual pay for analysts recruited to IAIP. The bonuses would apply to hirings made through fiscal 2008.

The bill would assign the undersecretary of IAIP to create a strategy for using so-called "open-source information" sources such as news publications. It also would authorize the Homeland Security Information Network, which shares unclassified data with government agencies, the private sector, the media and the public.

The bill is the department's first complete reauthorization since the Homeland Security Act creating DHS was passed in 2002.

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