WASHINGTON – At a hearing on the Department of Homeland Security FY2013 budget Wednesday, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, welcomed the Department’s proposed increase in spending on cybersecurity but expressed dismay about a proposal to consolidate homeland security grant programs without consulting Congress. 

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared as the lone witness to defend the Department’s $58.6 billion request.

“Budgets have to carefully balance our nation’s needs versus what it can afford,” Lieberman said. “Even something as important as securing our homeland from terrorists and cybercriminals – or being prepared for natural disasters like the devastating tornadoes that recently swept through the south and Midwest – requires a cold-eyed look at the national ledger. 

“I want to commend President Obama and Secretary Napolitano for presenting us with what I believe is a responsible budget request. It holds spending essentially at last year’s budget level. Yet, it increases investments in certain key areas where we need to strengthen our abilities to meet emerging threats.  And it pays for these increases by finding efficiencies and administrative savings throughout the Department.” 

Collins said: “The President proposes eliminating or combining several homeland security grant programs.  While some consolidation may be desirable, the Department must ensure that it does not jeopardize the progress that has been made in achieving such goals as interoperability of communications equipment used by first responders.   For the state of Maine, with its long, rural border with Canada, it is particularly important that DHS continue to employ the right mix of resources, ensuring an effective use of personnel, technology, and international, state, and local agency partnerships to keep the border open to our friends, but closed to those who would do us harm. ” 

Both Senators hailed the proposed $325.8 million increase to the cybersecurity budget for a total of $770 million, given that public and private networks are experiencing a steady increase in probes and attacks, and top national security officials say the cyber threat could soon overtake the threat of terrorism. 

Both Senators also expressed concern that the Department is proposing to circumvent Congress to reorganize its homeland security grant programs. The Department’s proposal would eliminate the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, and port and transit security grants and replace them with a new program that includes grants for natural disasters.  

“We created these programs specifically to help state and local governments prepare for terrorist attacks, even though when properly implemented they also help localities prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” said Lieberman.  

“But I am really perplexed that the Administration is proposing to make dramatic changes to these statutory programs without submitting legislation to the Committees, such as ours, with jurisdiction over these programs.” 

A range of other topics were covered, including border security, Coast Guard cutbacks, and management challenges.