WASHINGTON – House appropriators are proposing budget cuts for the Homeland Security Department’s chemical security program in light of managerial concerns that have emerged in recent months (see GSN, April 4).
Plants covered by the DHS Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards must submit plans for dealing with 18 areas of risk including physical protections, control of access, materials security, insider attacks and computer infiltration. The measures are aimed at preventing accidents and acts of sabotage that could cause the release of deadly chemicals into the area surrounding such facilities.
As of Jan. 6, the program covered more than 4,000 high-risk sites, many of them chemical manufacturing facilities. However, according to an internal memo publicized earlier this year, the program has been plagued by a litany of management issues, including a failure by department personnel to complete reviews of security plans.
As a result, the GOP leadership of the House Appropriations Committee is proposing to provide only $45.4 million for the chemical security program in fiscal 2013, which is $29.1 million less than the Obama administration is requesting and $47.9 million below what Congress appropriated for the present budget year.
“This reduction is due to significant managerial problems, program delays and poor budget execution,” the committee leadership said in a Tuesday statement on the homeland security funding bill.
The panel’s Homeland Security Subcommittee approved the legislation in a legislative session Wednesday morning.
The proposed budget cut comes as efforts to permanently authorize the program have been running out of steam, in part due to the concerns stemming from the memo and also to a legislative turf war between committees on Capitol Hill. Watchdog groups and federal science advisers have urged the Environmental Protection Agency to establish its own chemical security regulations in the absence of congressional action regarding the DHS program.
Overall, the House bill provides $39.1 billion for the Homeland Security Department, which is $484 million less than what Congress allotted for the current fiscal year and $393 million below the president’s request. The bill provides funding for a range of agencies and operations, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and cyber security, for the funding year that begins on Oct. 1.
“This bill does not represent a false choice between fiscal responsibility and security -- both are national security priorities and both are vigorously addressed in this bill,” subcommittee Chairman Robert Anderholt (R-Ala.) said during Wednesday’s markup.
He added that the legislation “prioritizes funding for frontline personnel such as the Border Patrol, CBP officers, Coast Guard military personnel, and law enforcement agents; supports the largest immigration detention capacity in ICE’s history; sustains high-risk aviation security; fully funds the known requirement for disaster relief; supports long overdue initiatives in cyber security; and robustly supports intelligence, watchlisting, threat target systems, preparedness grants, and science and technology programs including the National Agro and Bio-Defense Facility.”
A key Democrat is questioning the inclusion of funds for the National Agro and Bio-Defense facility, a proposed biodefense research structure in Kansas that would replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The Government Accountability Office reportedly has questioned the prudence of locating the new facility on the mainland United States, and the National Academy of Sciences is conducting a review of the project.
David Price (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, noted during Wednesday’s session that the draft bill includes $75 million for the project, even though the Obama administration did not request any funds for building the site (see GSN, April 27).
“Although I support the eventual construction of the NBAF facility, I must question the inclusion of $75 million in limited resources for a project that is not requested and remains under review by the National Academy of Sciences,” Price said. The lawmaker added that he would work to address various concerns he had with the bill as the appropriations process moves forward.
The committee leadership is looking to boost funding for DHS programs aimed at detecting and responding to threats from weapons of mass destruction. In this vein, the draft bill includes $316.3 million for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office “to fund needed technology for Border Patrol and Coast Guard field operations.” This is $26.3 million more than the current fiscal year.
In a separate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill also approved at the subcommittee level on Wednesday, panel leaders proposed cutting discretionary funding for international security assistance, which includes antiterrorism and nonproliferation programs. The legislation would provide $7.3 billion in this category, which is $632 million less than the president’s request and $28 million more than provided for the current fiscal year.
House appropriators are expected to release more on their measures when the full committee marks up the bills – likely next week.
House appropriators are proposing budget cuts for the Homeland Security Department’s chemical security program in light of managerial concerns that have emerged in recent months.