WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today said that while the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Fiscal Year 2005 budget makes substantial investments in the nation’s critical homeland security programs, she remains concerned about funding for first responders, port security, the Coast Guard, and the implementation of passenger screening programs.
During a Committee hearing with Secretary Tom Ridge on the DHS budget submission for Fiscal Year 2005, Senator Collins said, “The Department of Homeland Security’s budget that we are examining today makes substantial investments in areas that are critical to our nation’s safety. I cannot say that I agree with all of the proposed budget’s details—particularly in the areas of grants to states, communities, and first responders, the Coast Guard, and port security—but I commend the Secretary for making tough choices in a lean budget year.
“While our first responders have received more resources, they need a streamlined grant process that includes greater flexibility in how they can use federal resources. While response capabilities have improved, prevention lags. Advanced counter-terrorism technologies have yet to reach the front lines,” said Senator Collins. Last year, Senator Collins introduced legislation (S. 1245) to streamline the grant process for first responders and a second bill (S. 1612) to ensure that advanced counterterrorism technologies reach the front lines. S. 1245 was unanimously approved in Committee, and the latter bill was unanimously approved by the Senate last week.
“While the addition of personnel at our points of entry has brought us greater security at our borders, many smaller border communities face new restrictions that have tremendously disrupted their daily lives. And while our urban areas are receiving unprecedented federal assistance, the concerns and vulnerabilities of our small cities, small towns and small states must not be overlooked. Perhaps more than any other area, this one gets shortchanged in the Department’s budget request,” added Senator Collins, whose Committee has jurisdiction over DHS.
In addition, she expressed concern that the $678 million allocated for the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program, would put the project on target for completion in 22 years or longer. Senator Collins has advocated increased funding and a swifter implementation of the project, which would replace the Coast Guard’s aging fleet with newer ships and technologies.
During the hearing, Senator Collins also urged Secretary Ridge to maintain a balance between security and privacy, citing the Department of Defense’s use of sensitive airline information to develop passenger profiles. The Committee is investigating the situation. “I am concerned about revelations that two airlines turned over passenger information to government agencies without any public notice or privacy safeguards. We simply cannot gain security if we lose trust. As the Department of Homeland Security develops its new passenger pre-screening program, ‘CAPPS II,’ it must be open and forthright with the American people so that they can determine whether the added security is worth the privacy cost. Programs such as this one must be crafted with care to minimize the impact on personal privacy and must be subject to close congressional scrutiny,” said Senator Collins.