Thursday, May 05, 2005

House cuts Homeland Security budget plan


House cuts Homeland Security budget plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers cut nearly a half-billion dollars from the Homeland Security Department's 2006 budget proposal on Wednesday for what they called repeated failures to update Congress on counterterror spending.

The U.S. Coast Guard took the bulk of the cut — $466 million to its 20-year Deepwater project to modernize its ship and aircraft fleet.

"The department has been a reluctant partner and has ignored requests for information," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that approved the Homeland Security spending bill. "It is a simple equation — no information equals no money."

The House bill also eliminates $1.7 billion in fees the department hoped to generate by raising airline passenger costs by $3 per ticket. In all, the bill appropriates $31.8 billion for Homeland Security — a 7% drop from the $34.1 billion that the department requested.

Last year alone, Homeland Security was ordered to submit 230 reports to House and Senate appropriations committees. It is not unusual for federal agencies to miss some deadlines.

However, Republican House aides said, Homeland Security is avoiding congressional oversight through what they called a systematic problem in meeting deadlines for at least a dozen key reports.

Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department has asked Congress to help it prioritize the reports.

The department's budget request "reflects the administration's continued commitment to preventing acts of terrorism protecting the homeland," Roehrkasse said. "We work very closely with Congress through the entire budget process to ensure together we provide the necessary resources to accomplish this important objective."

The House bill calls for more than $485 million in funding reductions, some of which would to be withheld until the department submits reports. Besides the Deepwater cuts, the reductions include:

_$11 million from the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate, the department's intelligence arm.

_$82 million from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for programs on container security and immigration, and salaries and expenses.

_At least $54 million from the Transportation Security Administration headquarters, $4 million of which for "general lack of responsiveness."

_$40 million from the office of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff until the department enacts new air cargo screening standards, develops strategies to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the United States, and submits all outstanding reports.

Coast Guard headquarters took an additional $5 million hit for "general lack of responsiveness," according to a House breakdown of the funding reductions. In all, Deepwater would get $500 million — down from the $966 million requested.

"To say the Coast Guard is disappointed in the subcommittee's cut of the president's funding request for Deepwater would be a gross understatement," said Coast Guard commandant Adm. Thomas H. Collins. "Fortunately, we recognize that this subcommittee action is only a first step in the fiscal year 2006 appropriations process."