DHS to bolster FEMA IT
Chertoff, under pressure, refocuses agency on disaster response
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Feb 16, 2006
Homeland security Department secretary Michael Chertoff last week had to turn away, at least temporarily, from his preferred focus on deploying border technology to improving disaster management IT, amid continued public outrage over the response to last year's hurricanes.
Chertoff's shift in policy emphasis did not apparently entail changes to the administration's overall budget request for the widely derided Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Instead, the announcement of FEMA upgrades including use of IT for disaster management, logistics and telecommunications, came against the background of Congressional testimony, Government Accountability Office analysis and a DHS inspector general report describing pervasive waste, fraud and abuse in the hurricane response.
The FEMA technology upgrades will draw on the administration's proposal to increase the department's overall budget by 6 percent to $42.7 billion in fiscal 2007.
Chertoff detailed technology improvement plans in a speech to the National Emergency Management Association last week. FEMA is set for a 10 percent budget increase in the 2007 spending plan. FEMA's core budget has increased by 40 percent since 2004, the department said. DHS' IT budget would increase next year by $772 million'the most of any agency'to $5.4 billion.
Before the negative Katrina reports, Chertoff had called the 2007 spending plan 'a strong budget for the Homeland Security Department.'
He emphasized in his budget presentation and in a separate briefing the importance of securing the borders and improving immigration law enforcement.
And despite the new emphasis on disaster relief, border programs are still due for a boost.
The Secure Border Initiative, a collection of technology, personnel and infrastructure programs, is set to receive a major funding boost, to $541 million next year.
For example, DHS plans to increase by $135 million spending for the Employment Verification pilot program, a database to help employers check worker eligibility.
The administration has allocated $100 million to SBI.net, a project to further upgrade technology among ports of entry.
Chertoff emphasized that controlling illegal entry takes many forms, including better screening of visa applicants as well as improved intelligence about risks.
The budget includes an additional $60 million for improvements to databases used by the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system.
The new U.S. Visit funds will help pay for the coordination of information exchange between the department's IDENT database, which uses two-fingerprint data, and the FBI's 10-fingerprint Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. DHS now is seeking technology for small, portable terminals it can use to gather 10-fingerprint data at border crossings.