DHS funding takes $2.1B hit in House proposal

The House Appropriations Committee approved the last of its 12 appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2016 Tuesday, voting 32-17 to send the Homeland Security appropriations bill to the House floor for a final vote.

“With the approval of the 12th bill today, all committee work on funding measures is completed — the first time this has happened since 2009 — and this has been done at a rapid pace with several weeks left before the August recess,” Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, at the end of the markup session. “In addition, six Appropriations bills have been approved by the full House. I congratulate the Committee on this impressive work.”

The bill provides the Homeland Security Department with $39.3 billion in discretionary funding for FY 2016. That’s $337 million less than what DHS received in FY 2015 and $2.1 billion under what President Barack Obama asked for in his budget request

“I am proud that our bill focuses first and foremost on border security, law enforcement and fiscal responsibility,” said Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee.  “This bill rejects the President’s attempt to undermine our laws and uses the taxpayers’ dollars in a fiscally responsible manner by promoting reforms within DHS, and reducing ineffectual offices and programs. Additionally, this bill requires the President to enforce current law as it is written, not as he would like to interpret it by executive order. We must provide for our nation’s security, and enforcement of the law, while exercising fiscal restraint, which is what this bill offers.”

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On Monday, Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent a letter to Rogers, criticizing the draft legislation the committee marked up and voted on today.

“The inadequate overall funding levels in the Republicans’ 2016 budget framework, along with misplaced priorities, cause a number of problems with the Subcommittee bill specifically,” he wrote. “Overall, according to the Subcommittee, this bill reduces funding by about $2.1 billion, or 5 percent, below the President’s Budget. At these levels, the bill makes dangerous tradeoffs that would damage border security, weaken Federal emergency response, and limit national preparedness for future threats and hazards.”

The bill also reduces the funding balances for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund by nearly $1.3 billion. FEMA uses this fund to pay for its responses to emergencies and disasters nationwide.

“It has become common practice for FEMA to carryover billions of dollars in DRF every year, which is completely unnecessary,” Carter said. “Therefore, the recommendation provides full funding for FEMA FY ’16 DRF requirements as requested, but rescinds $1.26 billion in prior year unobligated balances. Even with the rescission, FEMA expects to the end the year with DRF balance of $1.3 billion, an amount more than sufficient for emergencies.”

No funding to support St. Elizabeths consolidation

The bill does not provide the funding needed for the DHS Headquarters Consolidations project at St. Elizabeths in Southeast Washington, D.C.

“Earlier this year, the department revised its plan for St. Elizabeths to consolidate the footprint and reduce costs,”  said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, (R-Calif.), Homeland Security subcommittee ranking member. “It makes no sense to build half the headquarters. Further delays will only cost us more in long run.”

In addition, the bill doesn’t incorporate a restructuring of FEMA’s grant programs proposed by the Obama administration. The legislation also failed to increase funding to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program that was called for in the President’s request.

“The President’s Budget request of $122 million would raise ATD capacity to an estimated 53,000 individuals per day and would help reduce the number of in absentia removal orders, enabling ICE to more easily track and remove those ordered removed,” Donovan wrote. “The Administration encourages the House to join the Senate in supporting this key facet of the President’s border security strategy.”

Donovan also criticized the bill for reducing President Obama’s $400 million request in support of FEMA’s flood risk mapping effort. which would forward the administration’s efforts to make the U.S. more resilient to climate change.

“The bill also includes highly ideological riders,” Donovan wrote. “These include provisions related to the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the newly proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents policies, as well as a provision that prohibits funds to be used to allow property confiscated by the Cuban Government to enter the United States.”

Last year, Congress failed to approve DHS funding for FY 2015 in protest over the President’s executive actions on immigration. Lawmakers voted at the end of February to avoid a shutdown of the agency.

“This bill provides no discretionary or mandatory funds to implement the President’s executive actions on immigration,” Carter said. “It goes one step further by including provisions that will make sure DHS does not take any steps to implement these actions that are under a court-imposed injunction.”

Although the Democrats on the subcommittee had significant objections to some elements under consideration, Roybal-Allard said there was bipartisan agreement on most of the legislation. She hoped the two parties could hammer out their differences on the House floor.

“The mark-up before us contains the current funding levels for FEMA, first responder and anti-terrorism grants,” she said. “It increases funding for critical Coast Guard acquisitions, maintains funding for Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, fully funds the proposed increase for Secret Service to begin addressing protective mission panel recommendations, provides additional funding for ICE investigations into child exploitation, human trafficking, financial crimes and drug smuggling, and restores funding for Centers of Excellence.”

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