DHS 2009 budget request seeks $12B for border security, immigration

The Homeland Security Department released snippets of its budget proposal for fiscal 2009 that relate to border security and immigration enforcement today, ahead of the funding request’s full release scheduled for Feb. 4.

DHS said the fiscal 2009 plan calls for $12.14 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, which the agency said is a 19 percent increase over fiscal 2008 funding.

Border security and illegal immigration was a focus of this week’s State of the Union address and have been an important issue in Republican and Democratic primaries.

President Bush will be asking for an additional $775 million for the department’s Secure Border Initiative, which so far has completed 280 miles of the 670-mile  pedestrian and vehicular fence planned to be in place by the end of 2008.

The initial task order for the technology-driven virtual fence, SBInet, faced significant delays in 2007.

A bipartisan group of four leading senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee sent a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff expressing concern about Customs and Border Protection’s anticipated final acceptance of SBInet’s first task order — Project 28. CBP conditionally accepted the Project 28 task order in December after it determined that Boeing, the prime contractor, had worked through issues it encountered integrating software. The project was originally expected to be online in mid-2007.

In anticipation of DHS starting the next phase of SBInet, which is expected to cost $64 million, the senators questioned the department’s leadership of the project thus far and its ability to oversee the project’s contractors.

“Securing our borders is an important homeland security priority; however, wise use of taxpayer dollars requires that the SBInet project have clearly defined goals and expectations, and that the department provide assurance to Congress that these investments will result in a system that fully meets CBP’s needs,” the letter states. “Therefore, we urge the department to provide greater clarity on CBP’s operational objectives for SBInet and the projected milestones and anticipated costs for the project.”

Bush will also request an additional $442.4 million for 2,200 border agents, which DHS says will achieve the goal of having 20,000 border agents by September 2009. Improving how CBP measures training for new agents was a key recommendation of a Jan. 3 Government Accountability Office report that CBP admitted the shortages were affecting its ability to carry out its duties.

The announcement also promised billions of dollars for internal enforcement of immigration laws, including money for 1,000 new detention beds for illegal immigrants who have been apprehended and $100 million for DHS’ E-Verify program, the department’s automated system for confirming the employment eligibility of new hires.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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