WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday applauded the Senate passage of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill which includes $38.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2008, including $2.7 billion in emergency funds for border security and other needs.
“This bill rightly provides significant increases over the Administration’s inadequate budget request for key national security programs,” said Lieberman. “With these increased funds our first responders and state and local governments can purchase equipment and receive the training necessary to effectively respond to man-made or natural disasters, our ports and railways will be better protected, and our borders and airports will have tighter security.”
The bill includes $950 million for FEMA’s State Homeland Security Grants Program, the level authorized by the “Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007”, which Senators Lieberman and Susan Collins R-Me., authored. The appropriations bill includes $50 million for an Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program also established by the 9/11 bill. The Omnibus bill also includes $750 million combined for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants and SAFER grants program while Emergency Management Performance Grants received an increase of $100 million from last year’s level, for a total of $300 million. FEMA receives $724 million, $189 million above FY07, including an additional $100 million for FEMA’s core operations programs in order to help build up FEMA’s capabilities and allow it to carry out its new duties required under the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which Lieberman and Collins also authored. Rail and transit security grants receive $400 million, $225 million above FY 2007. Port Security Grants are funded at $400 million as authorized by the SAFE Port Act, $190 million above last year’s level.
The Appropriations Act also includes $6.8 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to secure the borders, including funds to continue limited use of National Guard troops on the border and hire 3,000 additional border patrol agents. The bill provides $1.2 billion for border security fencing to complete 370 miles by the end of FY 2008 and almost $15 million for additional unmanned aerial systems to patrol the border. The Omnibus bill also includes $475 million for the U.S. VISIT program used to track the entry and exit of foreign visitors and $36 million for a new electronic travel authorization for travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries. This much needed funding will allow DHS to close security gaps at our land and air ports of entry that terrorist could potentially exploit.
Lieberman was also pleased that the bill provides $10 million for the Office of Bombing Prevention, a funding increase which Senator Lieberman joined Senator Collins in adding as an amendment to the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations bill earlier this year. “Improvised explosive devices are the preferred weapon of our enemies, and the Department of Homeland Security must have adequate resources to defend against this most likely threat,” said Lieberman. “I am happy to see that the Office of Bombing Prevention will receive the funding needed to fulfill its vital mission.” Another initiative proposed by Lieberman to develop a national strategy for use of Closed Circuit Televisions to enhance national security was also included in the final Omnibus package.
The legislation provides $50 million to protect chemical facilities from terrorist attacks and retained language championed by Senator Lieberman which allows states to enact chemical security rules that are more robust than federal standards. “I am pleased that Congress has provided money for this vital security program well above the President’s request,” Lieberman said. “We know that chemical sites pose a serious homeland security vulnerability and must ensure that DHS can help them enact meaningful security measures as soon as possible. I am also pleased that this legislation safeguards the ability of states and localities, who are our partners in homeland security, to enact stricter security standards where appropriate.”
It also includes $13 million for the Secure Freight Initiative and Global Trade Exchange programs, providing necessary funding for the continued operation of the container scanning pilot program authorized by the SAFE Port Act.
Lieberman was disappointed that the bill contains a record number of homeland security earmarks totaling $443.8 million. While some of these earmarks are for valuable purposes, they run the risk of taking money from other important initiatives. It would be unfortunate if the increase of earmarks sharply cuts into funding for other vital homeland security priorities.
Finally, the omnibus appropriations bill failed to provide any funding for a consolidated headquarters for the DHS, which is essential to establishing a unified culture at the Department. Currently, DHS is spread throughout 70 buildings across the National Capital Region making communication, coordination, and cooperation between DHS components a significant challenge. Senator Lieberman said, “The elimination of this funding simply prolongs an unacceptable status quo and hinders the homeland security mission.”