Spending plan would stall border credential requirement

Major IT programs could see boost

House and Senate conferees last night cleared a fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Department spending bill that would increase discretionary spending to $34.8 billion, an increase of $2.7 billion over the administration's request.

Both the House and Senate likely will pass the conferees' version of the spending bill by the end of the week; President George W. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.

The conferees adopted a provision introduced by Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would delay a requirement that citizens re-entering the country via land ports present secure proof of citizenship under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The acceptable credentials would include documents such as passports and a proposed new credential known as the People Access Security Service card, sometimes called a 'passport-lite.'

Stevens, McCain and a broad coalition of border state lawmakers in both chambers lined up to delay the land border citizenship credential requirement until June 1, 2009, largely because they see it as a costly burden on their constituents.

They faced off against influential lawmakers who see the travel initiative's credential requirement as a necessity to screen out border crossers who commit document fraud. Federal auditors have repeatedly proved that sneaking into the country with phony papers is a rather easy feat.

DHS has not yet issued regulations to implement the controversial PASS card program, which has become mired in disputes over biometric technology as well as policy issues.

The spending provisions of the bill included sweeteners for several high-profile IT projects:
  • The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program received $362.5 million, compared to $336.6 million last year.
  • Cybersecurity programs in the Preparedness Directorate would receive $87 million in 2007, compared to last year's figure of $91.9 million. The spending bill also includes $20 million in research funds for cyberthreat characterization, detection and origination, to be managed by the Science and Technology Directorate.
  • Coast Guard Deepwater program received funding of $1.06 billion, compared to last year's figure of $923.7 million.
  • Customs and Border Protection received $451.4 million for automation modernization, the same as last year's figure of $451.4 million.

The conferees withheld $1.6 billion of the DHS funding until the department meets planning and management requirements imposed by the lawmakers. The administration consistently has rejected the legal basis for this type of funding delay.

The bill gives DHS a three-year mandate to regulate some chemical plants considered especially risky. The provision exempts chemical plants already covered under the Maritime Security Act from the department's regulation.

The chemical plant regulation provision includes safeguards designed to protect detailed information about the plants from public disclosure, a provision welcomed by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

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