DHS bill slashes research funds

DHS appropriations provides more IT funding, but critics say it lacks a vision.

The Senate has approved a fiscal 2007 appropriations bill for the Homeland Security Department that includes significant funding for technology. But it’s not enough to satisfy some critics who say the legislation underfunds cybersecurity and lacks a unifying vision regarding the use of information technology.

Border issues and disaster preparedness dominate the bill. “It’s basically hurricanes and immigration for this budget cycle and [for] the rest of the Bush administration,” said Jeff Vining, vice president for homeland security and law enforcement at Gartner.

DHS watchers can see the budget glass as either half-full or half-empty, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. Investment in IT is on a reasonable growth path compared with last year, he said.

However, the budget does not reflect a “great vision, a faith in the use of IT to leverage our ability to address serious problems,” such as disaster response and critical infrastructure protection, Suss said.

Particularly worrisome is the drastic lack of funding for cybersecurity, he added. Under the bill, cybersecurity activities would receive $82.4 million, a paltry sum compared with spending on physical security.

“We’re putting our economy on the line here in terms of vulnerability to cyberattacks,” he said. “This is a complete blind spot in the budget.”

Spending is down for every category in the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, Vining said. The Senate bill would provide $818.5 million, a 37 percent decrease from the $1.3 billion in the fiscal 2006 budget.

The directorate was supposed to steer all of DHS’ research and development, but the administration now wants to move DHS to a model similar to that of the CIA. Private-sector firms do most of that agency’s scientific research and development, Vining said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency would get $6.64 billion, an increase from fiscal 2006, including $139.3 million for the Container Security Initiative and $131.6 million for sensor and surveillance technology. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would get $3.86 billion, an increase of 22.8 percent compared with fiscal 2006 funding.

Some of CBP’s $131 million for technological modernization is new money and some comes from other DHS programs, Vining said.

Emergency preparedness and response activities would get almost $2.7 billion, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would get $240 million for its readiness, mitigation, response and recovery activities.

The Senate is spending more on critical border security programs and demanding that DHS manage them well. It would give $399.5 million, an 18.9 percent increase compared with funding in the Senate’s fiscal 2006 bill, to the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.