Administration officials say Bush's budget proposal already shows that Homeland Security is important.
Charging the administration is shortchanging homeland security, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) called for almost $14 billion more than President Bush's fiscal 2005 Homeland Security Department budget proposal, with nearly half going to first responders.
The administration's proposed $47.4 billion for homeland security funding across the federal government does contain some new resources, "but the increase is less than meets the eye and far less than is truly needed," Lieberman wrote in an April 1 letter to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee, and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the group's ranking Democrat.
Discretionary spending increased only 4 percent and essentially maintains the status quo rather than providing for new security initiatives, Lieberman charged. In the letter, Lieberman's proposed increases for the fiscal 2005 budget include:
* $6.3 billion more for first responder training and equipment, including adding interoperable communications, hiring more firefighters and restoring proposed cuts to several federal grants to local law enforcement agencies.
* $1.6 billion more for rail, bus and aviation security, including risk assessments, explosive detection equipment systems and research and development for cargo screening, among other improvements.
* $1.5 billion more to help state public health departments and hospitals deal with possible bioterrorism outbreaks.
* $1.3 billion more for additional staffing at the borders and improved information technology systems to improve security there.
* $1.2 billion more for the Deepwater initiative to modernize the Coast Guard fleet, which at current levels could take two decades, $500 million more in grants to improve physical security of ports and another $40 million for container security.
* $780 million for the U.S. Postal Service to help them purchase and install equipment that can detect chemical or biological agents transmitted through the mail and new ventilation and filtration systems in such facilities.
* $500 million more to conduct assessments of critical infrastructures and key assets.
In a separate letter to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, Democrats on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security called the department's timid efforts to improve passenger rail and public transit systems unacceptable.
In that March 31 letter, they called for an additional $250 million for cameras and surveillance systems and communications systems, better training, emergency response and decontamination support, expanded deployment of weapons of mass destruction and explosive detectors and other security improvements.
Therese McAuliffe, a staff member on the House Appropriations Committee, said the president's homeland security budget will be met by Congress if not exceeded. She said Congress agrees that homeland security is still a top priority and spending will reflect that.
"We are basically in a marathon mode, not a sprint mode," she said March 31 during the 2004 Homeland and Global Security Summit, sponsored by Equity International Inc. "In general the numbers will be up for some time to come."
At that same conference, Ridge said DHS' strategic plan will focus on information sharing and infrastructure protection; interoperable communications systems and other equipment; expansion of border security while enhancing the effective flow of goods and people; development of better biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear detection devices; and better transportation security.
"The work we do at Homeland Security, in partnership with the private sector, national laboratories, universities and research centers, help us push the scientific envelope and drive the development and use of high technology to combat the weapons of high consequence," he said.