Border security dominates DHS technology budget request

Cybersecurity funds largely will come from alternative sources.

Roughly half of the Homeland Security Department's $5.4 billion information technology budget will go to ongoing system development and modernization programs for border control and protection.

Cybersecurity funds largely will come from alternative sources, said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, who described the budget as a whole as "strong and fiscally sound."

DHS divided spending in its IT budget into four parts: IT investments by mission; IT infrastructure and office automation; enterprise architecture and planning; and grants management. The bulk of IT funds ($3.7 billion) were allocated to investments by mission. Those investments included :

Chertoff said in a Feb. 4 briefing that the IT budget published by the Office of Management and Budget does not account for all homeland security IT spending. A significant percentage of IT funds comes from different areas of DHS and other federal budgets. In particular, he said cybersecurity, which accounted for only $294 million of the DHS budget, receives funding from other parts of the federal budget. (The majority of the DHS cybersecurity budget will pay for the continued deployment of the Einstein system, an automated process for collecting and analyzing computer security information across civilian agencies to protect against cyberthreats and intrusions.)

"There [is] our internal IT budget, in terms of development of our [own] IT processes," Chertoff said. "Then there is the budget for the Cyber Security Initiative, which is a separate item [with] a very hefty increase. Additionally, other agencies that will participate in [cybersecurity initiatives] will have their own budget. So it will be a well-funded effort." Chertoff would not specify the overall amount that would go toward cybersecurity, although the Wall Street Journal reported last month that the Bush administration plans to spend $6 billion on the initiative.

Border security and immigration dominated the budget. Of the $775 million requested for the Secure Border Initiative, which includes building a high-tech surveillance system of radars, cameras and ground sensors along a 28-mile section in southern Arizona, $157 million will go to the ongoing development of command, control, communications and intelligent systems that improve the exchange of information at the border.

An additional $4.2 million was requested for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which electronically tracks the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens into and out of the United States. Funds will be used to complete interoperability between US VISIT's Automated Biometric Identification System and the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification system. The budget also allocated $140 million to the continued rollout of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires all travelers to present approved documents for entry into the United States.

"This is somewhat less than we received in '08 because we expected in this fiscal year [that we would] be building the vast majority of the infrastructure we need to have WHTI in place, up and running, by June 2009, when we can begin the process of implementation," Chertoff said.

DHS plans to support 39 of the highest volume land ports, which account for 95 percent of all vehicle border traffic, with WHTI in fiscal 2009.

The department requested $100 million for E-Verify, which allows employers to use an automated system to verify personal information, including Social Security numbers and immigration information, against federal databases to confirm the employment eligibility of new hires. DHS allocated $57 million for the automation and modernization of IT systems for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Although DHS' fiscal 2009 IT budget is flat compared with the fiscal 2008 IT budget, the potential IT contracts from the budget are declining, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at the McLean, Va., market research firm Federal Sources, which analyzed DHS' proposed total spending to identify all potential contract opportunities.

"The addressable portion of the broader DHS budget is declining more than 18 percent," Bjorklund said. "So why is the DHS budget evaporating? The grants programs are being cut in half. Addressable investments in capital assets ranging from computers to cutters are dropping by about 25 percent [and] addressable spending on supplies and services will drop about 17 percent."

The House Homeland Security Committee said in a released statement that the budget "fails to provide adequate funding to some of the most significant homeland security issues."

In terms of IT, "the budget requests only $10 million to address deficiencies at [Customs and Border Protection]-owned ports of entry, which is almost insignificant compared to the need for additional security, new inspection facilities and replacement of aging infrastructure."