WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., on Wednesday questioned the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security about the high ratio of contractors to civilian employees within the DHS workforce.

According to DHS estimates, the first the Committee has received despite years of informal requests for the data, the Department has 188,000 civilian employees (not including uniformed members of the Coast Guard) and 200,000 contractors working for it – for a total workforce of almost 400,000.

“To me, this is just a shocking and unacceptable number,” Senator Lieberman said at a Committee hearing called to discuss the Departments proposed FY2011 budget. “Our Committee has long been concerned about DHS’s heavy reliance on contractors because it raises the question of efficient use of taxpayer money but also the question of who is in control of the Department’s mission: Is it federal contractors or fulltime employees?”

Senator Lieberman said he appreciated that DHS has recently undertaken a review of the skewed balance of DHS workers. But he noted, “This is just the beginning of a turnaround that is necessary.”
Senators Lieberman and Collins have requested an agency-by-agency breakdown of the ratio of federal civilian employees and contractors.

At the hearing, Senator Collins reiterated her proposal, offered with Lieberman, to transfer money budgeted for terrorist trials in New York City to the Coast Guard budget.

“The President proposes to slash the Coast Guard’s funding by $75 million below last year’s budget and reduce the number of uniformed personnel by more than 1,100 positions,” she said. “Instead of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on civilian trials in large American cities for the Guantanamo detainees, that $200 million would be better spent on the Coast Guard. As we look forward, it is clear that the Coast Guard’s role in homeland security missions will only expand.”

Senator Lieberman praised the proposed 2.67 percent increase in the Administration’s FY2011 DHS budget, which represents a reversal of FY2010 projections showing a steady decline in DHS funding over the next five years. The FY2011 budget now projects a small increase in DHS funding for the next five years, based in part on an increase of aviation security fees, which Lieberman said he would support “to benefit the budget of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Both Senators also questioned a proposed 5 percent cut for cyber security in the face of rampant hostile intrusions into private and public sector information systems and data theft. The Senators are working on comprehensive cyber security legislation that will, among other things, strengthen DHS’s ability to protect the nation’s computer networks.

The Department of Homeland Security “must greatly expand its capacity to take on this threat,” Senator Collins said. “Yet, the budget for the National Cyber Security Division would be reduced by $19 million next year, a reduction that flies in the face of the growing cyber threat.

“Our nation’s top intelligence officials recently testified that it is ‘certain’ that al Qaeda is planning another attack against the United States within the next six months,” she said. “In the face of this testimony, we must ensure that the Department’s budget priorities are aligned to counter the threats we face from a determined enemy.”