Senators Vote to Increase Security Funding

Thursday, July 13, 2006
Senate Republicans and Democrats together boosted funding for border and port security in the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill by almost $1b, but were bitterly divided over how to restructure the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Senators agreed to two amendments by Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., that would provide $350m extra for border security and $648m more for port and cargo security. But several senators clashed on the floor over restructuring FEMA. In the end, an amendment by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., to transform FEMA but keep it within the department was approved on an 87-11 vote. The amendment, which had strong backing from Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., would turn FEMA into the U.S. Emergency Management Authority, give it special protections so its budget and staff could not be stripped, and give its administrator direct reporting authority to the White House during a crisis. A competing amendment to remove FEMA from the department and make it an independent Cabinet-level agency was defeated by a 66-32 vote. That amendment was backed by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Before the amendments on border and port security were approved, the spending bill would have provided about $31.7b in discretionary spending for the department. But with the additional funding, the Senate bill is now almost $700m more than the House version, which could set up a complicated conference. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., co-sponsored both amendments, saying he supported them because they can be paid for without breaking the Senate's spending cap on the bill. The border security provisions would be paid for by increasing fees on foreigners for Customs and immigration services, GovExec.com reported. It was not immediately clear whether the fee increase would be opposed by likely House conferees or other lawmakers. In 2004, for example, House Ways and Means Chairman William Thomas, R-Calif., objected to extending Customs user fees in the fiscal 2005 Homeland Security spending bill to pay for $784m in additional spending. The border security amendment would pay for capital infrastructure initiatives, many of which were proposed by Gregg in the fiscal 2006 emergency supplemental spending bill. Byrd said the funding is critical given that new agents for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are being hired. The amendment would specifically provide $220m to Customs and Border Protection for air and marine recapitalization, replacing helicopters, buying additional unmanned aerial vehicles and purchasing construction vehicles; $45m to ICE for replacing vehicles and modernization of information technology systems, and $85m to Citizenship and Immigration Services for fraud detection and its business transformation program. The $648m in additional funding for cargo and port security would be paid for by tapping unobligated fiscal 2006 funds for Homeland Security. According to GovExec.com, the spending bill would have to be signed into law before the end of this fiscal year in order for the unobligated balance to be tapped, but the funds would be available until they are spent. The amendment would provide $251m to CBP to put non-intrusive inspection equipment at U.S. seaports and rail border crossings and to hire officers to conduct more cargo inspections; $207m to the Coast Guard for its Deepwater modernization program and to accelerate security assessments of both foreign and domestic ports; and $190m more for port security grants. (Source: GovExec.com)
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