Domestic Counter-IED Office Poised for Expansion
By Sara Peck and Priscilla Ybarra
An understaffed and poorly funded Department of Homeland Security office dedicated to fighting improvised explosive devices will receive a substantial budget increase and expanded duties if proposed legislation passes this year.
The Office for Bombing Prevention deals with the detection and mitigation of explosive threats, but employs only four personnel and a handful of contractors and has a $10 million budget. So far the office, which is part of the DHS infrastructure protection division, has only been able to review half of the states’ bomb security programs because of inadequate funding, said a congressional source who investigated the office.
The National Bombing Prevention Act of 2008 would boost the office’s budget to $25 million per year.
“It’s a big increase, but (the office) has been getting by on a shoestring,” said a Republican committee staffer.
Introduced as an amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the bill has strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate and the endorsement of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Two congressional staffers, who declined to be named, said they expect the bill to pass.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said FBI and DHS officials have told her that, “the threat from these devices [in the United States] is not only real, but growing.”
The legislation calls for the improvement of state bomb squad capabilities, including increased funding for the canine teams that detect explosives. The office will also seek to leverage military technologies being employed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It will also take a more proactive role in evaluating existing bomb response facilities and supporting local education programs, said a Senate committee staffer.
But preventing IED attacks domestically is much different than in Iraq and Afghanistan, where explosive ordinance disposal teams can destroy bombs on site, explained the Senate staffer. In an urban area the response plan needs to be much different, but military techniques learned overseas can still be used at home, the staffer added.
“The idea behind this is to try to learn how to use combat lessons in a civilian first-response sense,” the staffer said.