WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman ID-Conn., Monday rejected the Administration’s proposal to cut funding in half for state and local homeland security grants that support first responders and called for close scrutiny of spending on border security.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget calls for a whopping $2 billion dollar, 48 percent cut to state and local programs administered by the Department of Homeland Security – including a nearly 60 percent cut in funds to firefighters.

“I reject the White House justification for these grossly inadequate recommendations,” Lieberman said. “The threat to our cities and towns from terrorist attacks and natural disasters has not diminished, and the federal government’s contribution to protecting states and localities should not diminish either. I am confident that Congress will do what we have done together across party lines over the last four years which is to restore adequate funding to protect our homeland security. ”

This year, as was the case for the past four fiscal years, the Administration proposed slashing overall homeland security grant funding by nearly half. The Administration’s 2009 DHS budget proposal calls for a 79 percent cut in the largest state homeland security grant program, a 60 percent cut to firefighters, a 56 percent cut to transit security grants, and a 48 percent reduction to port security grants.

“Everything we have experienced in the past seven years tells us we need to keep our guard up for dealing with potential catastrophes,” Lieberman said. “These deep cuts send exactly the wrong message that we can now relax and stand down.”
Lieberman also questioned the Administration’s proposed $7 million cut to DHS’ Office of Inspector General, which investigates waste, fraud, and abuse.

“Given the Department’s $50 billion budget and its record of mismanagement, we need as much oversight of its spending as possible,” Lieberman said. “This is no time to make it harder for investigators to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.”
The budget also included a funding increase in border security for 1,000 extra detention beds and the hiring of 2,200 new Border Patrol agents. Lieberman supported that funding but expressed concern with DHS mismanagement in the development and deployment of large scale border security procurement programs, such as SBInet and U.S.VISIT.

“DHS must work extra hard to ensure that its border security funding will be spent effectively,” Lieberman said. “Development of the SBInet and US-VISIT programs has been flawed and increased hiring of Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection officers has often not been accompanied by adequate training and supervision.”

The Senator praised the Administration’s proposal to:

• Add a critical layer of security at our land and seaports of entry by funding the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative at $107 million. The program takes effect in June 2009.
• Request $467 million to help consolidate the myriad agencies of DHS at one physical location, the St. Elizabeth’s site.
• Increase cyber security funding by $83 million but warned that it must be closely monitored

The Senator further objected to the Administration’s proposals to:
• Eliminate all dedicated funding for first responder communications interoperability.
• Reduce Coast Guard research and development funding by 36 percent.
• Cut in half funding for training and exercise programs that ensure that federal, state, and local officials and first responders are prepared for natural disasters and terrorist attacks.