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"Panel backs security grants, eliminate cap on federal airport screeners"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Panel backs security grants, cuts modernization aid
By Chris Strohm
National Journal's Technology Daily 

House appropriators on Friday approved a measure to fund the Homeland
Security Department next fiscal year, voting to boost spending for state and
local grant programs and cut funds for the Coast Guard's troubled
fleet-modernization program.

The fiscal 2008 Homeland Security appropriations measure would allocate
about $36.2 billion in discretionary spending, or about $2 billion more than
the White House requested. The allocation also would be about $2.5 billion
more than fiscal 2007 funding.

The House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved the draft
bill unanimously by voice vote. No amendments were offered during the

Significantly, funding to help state and local emergency responders would be
increased across the board. Appropriators voted to provide $400 million for
port security grants, which is the amount established by congressional
authorizers last year. The White House only requested $210 million, the same
amount enacted for the current fiscal year.

The legislation also would provide $400 million for rail and transit
security grants. The White House requested $175 million, the fiscal 2007
level. Appropriators also offered $800 million for firefighter assistance
grants; $800 million for urban security grants; $500 million for state
homeland security grants; and $400 million for law enforcement terrorism
prevention grants.

The spending measure would create two new grant programs. One would provide
$50 million to help states comply with the so-called REAL ID Act, which
requires the states to issue secure and standardized identification
documents to their residents starting in 2008. Another $50 million program
would help fund communications equipment that could be used across

But appropriators voted to provide only about $700 million for the Coast
Guard's Deepwater program, which is about $450 million less than current
levels and $140 million less than the administration's request. The program
has been heavily criticized by government auditors and lawmakers for
mismanagement and cost overruns.

Appropriators met the White House's request for $1 billion for the Secure
Border Initiative and $462 million for the US-VISIT foreigner-tracking
system. But they want to withhold the Secure Border Initiative funds until
the Homeland Security Department submits detailed expenditure plans for all
projects under it.

Democrats also inserted language that would require the department to issue
a public notice and wait 15 days before waiving environmental restrictions
when it comes to building fencing and infrastructure along the border.
Subcommittee ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., argued that the language
"changes existing law, alters the intent of Congress, invites frivolous
litigation and has the potential to severely inhibit DHS from addressing
vulnerabilities along our borders."

The department also would have to get "support" from local communities
before building infrastructure. Rogers said the requirement could provide "a
local community with an effective veto over federal policy."

The spending measure would eliminate a cap on federal airport screeners. And
it would give state and local governments the power to enact tougher laws on
chemical security -- a provision heavily opposed by Republicans and the
chemical industry.
Full committee debate is expected in June.

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