Budget Woes May Force Homeland Security To Cut Missions

By Stew Magnuson
Sequester or no sequester, the Department of Homeland Security is in store for changes, a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer predicted.

The Budget Control Act calls for automatic cuts in 2013, or a sequester, if Congress doesn’t reach a compromise on spending cuts by the end of 2012. The Department of Homeland Security falls under the national security category in the law, as does the Defense Department, the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs and foreign aid. These departments are in store for large, automatic reductions if no agreement is reached.  

If the sequester goes into effect, it will mean a 7.8 percent reduction in the DHS budget, said Charles Kieffer, staff director of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.

When congressional leadership is “making macro decisions about allocating dollars between the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and our nuclear complex, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t compete very well,” he said at a talk sponsored by the Homeland Security Leadership Forum.

However, even if the sequester doesn’t go into effect, the act calls for austere spending at DHS for the next decade.

“Even if we do not have a sequester the BCA constraints are such that we have to assume that we are going to be living in a budget freeze environment for 10 years. Some mission changes will inevitably result in that,” he said.

The monkey wrench in the budget crunch is the department has some bills coming due that can’t be avoided.

Congress in August 2010 mandated and supplied $600 million in supplemental border security funding. That included 1,000 new Border Patrol agents. It has taken about a year to hire and train these new officers.

“Now that they’re on board, are we going to let them go? I don’t think so,” he said. Nevertheless, there are $400 million in annualized costs for those extra agents.

The Secret Service will spend an extra $100 million providing protection to presidential candidates in 2012.

The Transportation Security Administration rushed advanced imaging technology to airports in the aftermath of the so-called Christmas Day plot in 2009. Those require extra staff training and a “significant logistical tail,” he said.

The Coast Guard continues to have new missions laid at its doorstep. Congress has given the service more than the president’s annual request for the past few years, but that is over, he predicted.

Another threat is complacency in a time where there have not been any major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

“Will homeland security fatigue begin to set in? That will be a very dangerous thing, but I am seeing early signs of it,” he said.

“I am trying to educate members that even in the absence of an attack, the department has core missions that are not going away,” he added.

Most Coast Guard missions, for example, have nothing to do with counter-terrorism. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the Secret Service all perform non-terrorism related tasks.

“Even if we didn’t have another attack, you can’t then under-invest in the resources that helped to produce the outcome whereby we didn’t have another attack,” he added.

The authorizing committees, once they face the reality of the new budgets, will have to take a serious look at DHS missions. There has not been any restructuring of the department since it was created in 2002, he noted.

In its first few years, DHS was chronically underfunded as President Bush vowed that its creation would not add to the federal budget. As a result, the department was not able to hire the acquisition and human resources personnel it needed to adequately do its job, Kieffer said.

Appropriators during the last four budget cycles have tried to rectify that. Unfortunately, those efforts will not continue, he added.

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, also speaking at the forum, took a hard line toward the department.

“The Department of Homeland Security was meant to be a lean, nimble department, not a mega-bureaucracy,” he said.

“More money and more government does not mean more security,” he added.

“If a given program does not have an effective plan for demonstrating the return on investment, we cannot afford to fund it blindly,” he said.

On the flip side those programs that can effectively link results to funding will be the beneficiaries, he added.

His priorities include: ensuring that frontline personnel have the support they need to carry out their missions; revamping the Federal Emergency Management Agency budget process so it does not come to Congress with emergency supplemental funding requests; and reforming the way first responder grants are distributed.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Budget, Disaster Response

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