Senate committee approves $37.6B for DHS

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $37.6 billion spending package for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2008 that increases money for ports and mass transit, maintains Deepwater support and fully funds the Secure Border Initiative Network, but with conditions.

The committee-approved budget is $2.2 billion more than the White House’s requested, said Sen. Robert Byrd, (D-W.Va.), committee chairman.

“For far too long, the Bush administration has funded the department with spare change rather than real dollars, “Byrd said in a statement. “We must invest in the technology and personnel that will make the department second to none.”

Under the bill, grants for port security would rise to $400 million, from $210 million this year, which will help pay for items such as perimeter fencing, underwater detection systems and camera surveillance systems, Byrd said in the release.

Mass transit systems also would get $400 million, up from $175 million this year. The port and mass transit funding increases are the same as what was reported in the legislation approved by the House Appropriations Committee June 5.

The secure border network, known as SBInet, which includes cameras and sensors along with fences, would receive the $1 billion President Bush requested.

But because of concerns about high-risk contractor-driven programs, the committee is withholding $500 million from SBInet until an expenditure plan is submitted and approved, Byrd said.

Deepwater will receive $827 million in the Senate spending bill, down from $1.1 billion this year and $836 million Bush requested. The House bill, on the other hand, trims Deepwater funding to $698 million.

The Senate legislation includes several provisions regarding management at DHS, notably a requirement for the Coast Guard to provide an independent assessment of acquisition staffing requirements for major procurement programs.

The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office to investigate the use of federal contractors to fill federal employee positions at DHS. DHS would have to develop a plan to meet Federal Information Security Management Act requirements and would be forbidden to spend allocated funds on additional reorganizations without congressional approval.

The bill still has a long way to go. The full Senate must pass it, the House must pass its version and then the bills will have to be reconciled through the standard congressional conference process before Bush will have the opportunity to sign or veto it.

The House Appropriations Committee said June 5 it approved a $36.3 billion spending bill for DHS for next year that is $2.1 billion more than the White House requested. Information was not immediately available to clarify each spending item in each bill.

Alice Lipowicz writes for Washington Technology, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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