Border security, immigration would get budget boost in '09

In step with the Homeland Security Department’s goals for 2008, President Bush has requested funding to boost cybersecurity and border security programs in fiscal 2009. Overall, he wants to increase the department’s budget by 6.8 percent.

Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget request for DHS, released today, calls for $12.14 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, a 19 percent increase over fiscal 2008 funding. He asked appropriators for an additional $775 million for the beleaguered SBInet program, 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.

Bush’s request for additional cybersecurity spending is in line with one of the main goals DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff identified for 2008. DHS said it responded to more than 37,000 cyber incidents last year – more than double the number of the previous year.

“An unfortunate consequence of living in a networked, technologically dependent world is that terrorists and others seek to use our own technology against us,” Chertoff said today. He refused to go into details about the entire cybersecurity budget, citing classification limitations. “This administration is currently intently focused on cybersecurity.”

Bush also wants to boost the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which protects federal networks and cyber infrastructure, by more than $80 million. Specifically, the administration is asking for increased funding for DHS’ Einstein program, which tracks malicious activity on federal computer systems.

Bush asked for significantly more money for Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard than in 2008. The Coast Guard, for example, would receive more than $990 million for its Deepwater program — more than $200 million more than it got in 2008.

James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he was not surprised by the proposed increases in funding for those two areas. They represent the administration taking a look at its long-term priorities, he said.

“This is kind of a natural evolution,” Carafano added.

But Bush also plans to cut grant programs to state and local governments administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency by more than $1 billion. The 2009 budget would reduce funding for those programs to $1.9 billion from the almost $3.2 billion they got in the 2008 enacted budget — a proposal that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, criticized in a press release today.

DHS officials say that because they have new programs, the Bush administration is actually asking for $2.2 billion for state and local grants, which they say is in line with what it had asked for in fiscal 2008.

Specifically, the State Homeland Security Grant Program would get about a quarter of what Congress enacted for fiscal ’08, going from $950 million to $200 million. Money available through grants for urban areas deemed to be at high risk for terrorist attacks would go up slightly.

Port security, public transportation security assistance and trucking security grants to state and local governments would also be halved.

Carafano said the decision to reduce grants to state and local governments was likely to avoid their becoming a way to administer pet projects.

But Thompson said the administration’s decision “neglects firefighters, police officers and other emergency service providers who respond to our calls for help by slashing their funding.”

He also questioned Bush’s decision to cut funding for the National Infrastructure Protection Plan Program and its commitment to some information-sharing initiatives, including state and local intelligence fusion centers.

At the budget briefing, a DHS official said grants for fusion enters wou d still be available. The administration pledged to support the centers’ capabilities last year as part of its National Information Sharing Strategy.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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