By Congressman Paul Ryan
The President’s FY2010 base budget requests $42.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about 3.5% increase over FY2009 appropriations. I applaud the President’s efforts to provide increased funding for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to help deal with the threat posed to our homeland by illegal immigration.
While the funding requested in the President’s budget for DHS reflects only a modest increase in DHS spending compared to other federal agencies, it is important to note that significant amounts of DHS funding were recently passed under the budget radar as part of H.R. 1, the Stimulus Bill. This request also phases in increases in the per-ticket airline passenger security fee, a policy that would increase the price of airline tickets for consumers and has been rejected repeatedly by Congress during the Bush Administration. As Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, I will work with my colleagues and the Obama Administration to increase transparency and accountability in DHS and other homeland protection programs.
On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, into law. The final version of this legislation contains approximately $4 billion in federal assistance for state and local first responders. Specifically, this legislation includes:
$2 billion for the Byrne JAG formula grant program and $225 million for Byrne competitive grants, which provide federal funding to assist state and local law enforcement with crime control;
$225 million for Violence Against Women programs, of which $175 million is for STOP grants and $50 million is for transitional housing assistance grants;
$1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office for the hiring and rehiring of additional career law enforcement officers and civilian public safety personnel. The bill waives the 25% local match and the $75,000 per officer cap;
$40 million for competitive grants to provide assistance and equipment to local law enforcement along the Southern border and in High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to combat criminal narcotics activity stemming from the Southern border, of which $10 million shall be for the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearm’s Project Gunrunner;
$100 million to be distributed by the Office for Victims of Crime, $125 million for assistance to law enforcement in rural areas, and $50 million for Internet Crimes against Children initiatives; and
$120 million in FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grants, along with a waiver for local matching funds under this program.
Unfortunately, I could not support the passage of H.R. 1. While there is no doubt that programs like these that were included in the Stimulus have merit, their inclusion in legislation meant to jump-start our economy is questionable. I agree that an urgent and effective fiscal response was needed to help our ailing economy, however I do not believe the overall bill will help our economy recover. I hope that Congress will now return to regular order so that we can find ways to fund these important programs in a more fiscally-responsible manner.
Unfortunately, the 110th Congress missed an important opportunity for progress in funding important first responder programs by failing to consider a stand-alone Homeland Security Appropriations bill. However, Congress eventually passed H.R. 2638, Omnibus Appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2009, which included funding for Homeland Security programs through March of 2009. H.R. 2638 was signed into law by the President on September 30, 2008, and provided DHS with $41.2 billion for FY2009, a 6% increase above the Administration’s request. While many DHS programs were funded at levels equal to FY2008, some state and local grants programs did receive modest increases over last year. Specifically, the Omnibus included:
$4.1 million in DHS state and local grant authority;
$838 million for high-density urban areas and $50 million for interoperable communications grants;
$8 million for trucking industry security, $400 million for port security, and $400 million for transit security;
$775 million for firefighter grants; and
$890 million for State Homeland Security Grant Program.
In addition, the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act included key oversight provisions for the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative. As a proponent of border security and a supporter of the Secure Fence Act, I was deeply concerned with repeated delays by the Administration in construction of the pedestrian and vehicle border fencing. The Omnibus language requires timely reporting by DHS officials to Congress on the status of fence construction and efforts to expedite the Secure Border Initiative. By the end of December 2008, DHS completed 370 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle fencing.
Congress also passed separately an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that included $2.7 billion to help Midwestern States defray disaster costs incurred by snow and flood emergencies. Southeastern Wisconsin was hit particularly hard by these unpredictable natural disasters in 2008, and I am glad Congress provided our states with the assistance necessary to rebuild and repair critical infrastructure and supplement some of the costs of state and local emergency response.
Congress also passed the Science, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations Act as part of the FY2009 Omnibus on September 30, 2008. As with Homeland Security Appropriations, the Omnibus funds Science, Justice and Commerce programs through March of 2009 largely at the same levels as FY2008. The following provisions were continued at last year’s levels:
$600 million for the Byrne Memorial JAG program and $124.5 million for Byrne Discretionary Grants;
$460 million for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program;
$40 million for the Southwest Border Prosecutor Initiative;
$15 million for Victims of Trafficking.
The law also provides FY2008 level funding in FY2009 COPS, supporting funding for programs such as:
$30 million for Bulletproof Vests;
$85 million for the Meth Hot Spots program.
Over the last few years, the amount of funding available to state and local officials through Office of Justice Programs has declined. Specifically, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants and COPS programs, which provide local law enforcement with much-needed flexibility and discretion instead of the red tape and strings accompanying similar federal funding streams, have been the target of spending cuts. Meeting and talking with law enforcement officials back in Wisconsin, I realize how much they depend on these grant programs. I was pleased that H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, included $4 billion for first responder programs.
Mexico is currently in the midst of an extremely violent drug war. In 2009 alone, over 1,000 violent murders have been committed. Much of the violence occurring in Mexico takes place along the U.S.-Mexican border, where vast sums of money can be made by smuggling drugs into the U.S. Many analysts have concerns that due to the resources that Mexican drug cartels have, the Mexican government will not be able to effectively deal with the threat these gangs pose. Should the Mexican government be co-opted by these gangs, it will become a failed state. This would pose severe risks to the United States and we must take action to protect our border from this threat.
Operational control of our borders should be among the highest priorities of Congress. Every nation has the right to control entry and exit across its border. Porous borders leave us susceptible to the illegal crossing of terrorists, drug lords, and gang members, placing our homeland security in serious jeopardy. I urge Congress to clear up more of the red tape hindering our efforts to secure the border, and will continue working toward enforcement of our nation’s borders.
Congressman Paul Ryan serves Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. To contact him by phone in Washington, D.C., call (202) 225-3031. Or visit Paul Ryan at www.house.gov/ryan