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Homeland Security, State Warn Sequester Would Hurt WMD Defense

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

Secretary of State John Kerry, shown on Wednesday, has warned of the impact coming federal budget cuts would have on his department's efforts to counter terrorism and nuclear weapons threats (AP Photo/Steve Helber). Secretary of State John Kerry, shown on Wednesday, has warned of the impact coming federal budget cuts would have on his department's efforts to counter terrorism and nuclear weapons threats (AP Photo/Steve Helber).

WASHINGTON – The secretaries of State and Homeland Security are warning that their departments' efforts against weapons of mass destruction would be compromised by major budget cuts set to be implemented in a matter of days.

The federal government will be forced to absorb $85 billion in spending reductions through the final seven months of this budget year if Congress cannot agree on an alternative plan. A growing number of lawmakers have said they believe now there is no avoiding the sequestration mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The Pentagon has been particularly vocal about the danger to its operations should the sequester occur. Other department heads are also raising their voices on the issue as the March 1 deadline approaches.

Secretary of State John Kerry said last week his department would lose about $850 million in operational funding and $1.7 billion from its foreign assistance coffers under sequestration.

The cuts “would limit our ability to advance peace, security and stability around the world, and to prevent wars, contain conflicts, reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, expand global markets, counter extremism, secure our borders and protect Americans abroad,” he stated in a Feb. 11 letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

Kerry identified more than 20 specific budget impacts, including a reduction of about $35 million for antiterrorism activities, safeguarding “loose and dangerous weapons” from diversion, and ensuring the elimination of conventional arms.

"We can't be strong in the world unless we are strong at home," he said on Wednesday during a foreign policy address at the University of Virginia.

State by deadline on Wednesday had not responded to a request for additional details on the looming cutbacks.

The department oversees a number of unconventional weapons defense and threat-reduction projects efforts through its Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Office and other branches. It is also charged with overseeing arms control agreements such as the New START treaty with Russia.

For fiscal 2013, the state department requested $635.7 million for nonproliferation, antiterrorism and demining operations, including $90 million for the U.N. nuclear agency and $55 million for an export control program to prevent rogue actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, delivery vehicles and conventional arms. The federal government is operating on a temporary budget resolution through March 27.

In a similar message to Mikulski, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Jan. 31 that sequestration would force her department’s Science and Technology Directorate to halt research and development work on projects including countermeasures for biological terrorism dangers.

“Threats from terrorism and the need to respond to and recover from natural disasters will not diminish because of budget cuts,” Napolitano told the Appropriations Committee last week. She highlighted the budget threat to DHS border security and cargo inspections, among other assignments.

Homeland Security referred a request for additional information to Napolitano’s testimony, which did not address the department’s biological defense work in greater detail.

The department has also led efforts to prevent an act of nuclear terrorism against the United States through its Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and projects such as the Securing the Cities initiative.

More than $831 million was sought for the Science and Technology Directorate in this budget year, and Homeland Security requested close to $328 million for the nuclear detection branch.

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