A House Appropriations panel on Thursday approved a $62.8 billion funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that provides $2.1 billion to restart the building of a security wall along the U.S. southwest border and fully funds the Coast Guard’s request to acquire a commercial polar icebreaker.
The proposed fiscal year 2024 funding by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security is $2.4 billion more than requested by the Biden administration and $2.1 billion more than Congress provided in FY ’23. The subcommittee approved the proposal by voice vote, with all Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
The $2.1 billion for physical barriers is a key priority of House Republicans and source of strong opposition by the administration and Democrats.
“Unlike recent Homeland Security appropriations and this president’s request, this bill returns us to a traditional border security approach by investing in tried-and-true methods to both secure the border and deter those who have no legitimate basis for entry,” Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), the subcommittee chairman, said in his opening remarks. “First, we provide $2.1 billion for physical barriers with explicit conditions that the funds will be put to contract quickly because we know walls work.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the ranking member on the panel, countered that that the wall is a “14th Century solution to a 21st Century challenge,” and said the funding for the wall is $36 million per mile.
“All it requires is a $100 ladder to take care of that,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar pointed to some of the bill’s bipartisan initiatives, including $287 million more than requested to sustain, and acquire new, border security technology. The bill provides $276 million to acquire and deploy border security technologies.
The Department of Homeland Security is seeking $719.1 million in procurement and related construction funding for Customs and Border Protection in FY ’24.
The bill would also provide $305.4 million for non-intrusive inspection technology, the same amount requested by DHS, with the funding targeted at reducing the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. through land ports of entry.
Like last year, the subcommittee fully funds the Coast Guard’s $150 million request to acquire a commercial polar icebreaker to fill near-term gaps in the service’s icebreaking operations. House and Senate appropriators last year funded the request but the funding was stripped without explanation in a final omnibus appropriations bill for FY ’23.
The subcommittee is also proposing $335 million for four more fast response cutters (FRCs) that would be used to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region. The Coast Guard currently operates three FRCs from Guam in the Western Pacific.
The Coast Guard’s current program is for 65 FRCs. If the House Appropriators’ proposal is ultimately accepted, it would increase the program to 69 of the 154-foot vessels, which are built by Bollinger Shipyards.
The subcommittee would cut $25.8 million from the Coast Guard’s $170 million request for long-lead materials for third polar security cutter due to design and construction delays with the first ship.
Bollinger, by virtue of its acquisition of Halter Marine earlier this year, is the prime contractor for the PSC. The Coast Guard is waiting for the company to sort out the ship design before announcing a new production schedule, which is already delayed two years until FY ’26 for the first ship and in danger of slipping into FY ‘27.
Overall, the panel would provide $2 billion for the Coast Guard’s acquisition account, about $450 million above the request and more in line with what the service has historically said it needs to maintain its modernization efforts. Cuellar lauded the increase in Coast Guard funding.
The funding includes the requested $579 million for the offshore patrol cutter, which will go toward construction of the sixth ship and long-lead items for the seventh. These ships are being built by Austal Shipbuilding.
The appropriators are also proposing $105.4 million for the Transportation Security Administration to continue to acquire computed tomography (CT)-based checkpoint baggage scanners. That amount is about the same as Congress has funded the last two fiscal years.
At $105 million annually, TSA Administrator David Pekoske has said it will take until 2036 to complete deployments of the checkpoint CT systems. He told Congress this spring that at $70 million annually, it will take until 2042 to complete deployments.
Pekoske in 2022 said the checkpoint CT program would require $300 million to $350 million annually to deploy to all checkpoints within five years. The program is his top technology priority.
So far, the agency has acquired checkpoint CT systems from Analogic and Smiths Detection and recently contracted with Integrated Defense and Security Solutions.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, which provides authorities for DHS, on Thursday introduced the Fund TSA Act (H.R. 3394) to end the diversion of portions of airline passenger security fees from TSA to the U.S. Treasury. Thompson’s bill would allow TSA to use the security feeds for its needs, including $1.1 billion in FY ’24 to fund pay increases at the agency and $250 million for checkpoint CT and other airport security programs.
The bill would also increase the passenger security fee by $2 per one-way trip and index it to inflation.
The Appropriations subcommittee is proposing to slow the growth of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), recommending $2.9 billion, which is $19.2 million more than FY ’23 and $130 million below the request. Not long ago, CISA was a $2 billion agency.
Joyce said CISA “has grown rapidly over the last few fiscal years, and this bill slows that growth to allow this relatively new agency to mature.”
The proposed funding includes $810.8 million for cyber operations, including vulnerability management, capacity building and threat hunting, and $467.6 million for the operation and modernization of cybersecurity defenses of federal agency networks.