By Calvin Biesecker

The Obama administration yesterday proposed an FY ’10 budget request that includes $42.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a more than 6 percent increase from the amount appropriated by Congress in the current fiscal year.

As expected, the budget request includes few program details, which are expected to be released in April. However, of the two pages devoted to DHS in the president’s submission to Capitol Hill, the request mentions “funding highlights” such as cyber security, higher passenger fees to minimize transportation security costs, strengthened border security and immigration services and increased funding to states and localities.

The budget request is on top of $2.8 billion in homeland security funding approved by Congress earlier this month as part of President Obama’s economic recovery package (Defense Daily, Feb. 13, and Feb. 17).

The proposed DHS spending includes $355 million for cyber security, including funding of the base operations of the National Cyber Security Division and initiatives under the Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative to protect the country’s information networks. The FY ’09 budget contains $313.5 million for the National Cyber Security Division.

DHS is currently testing a set of initial upgrades to the federal government’s Einstein cyber intrusion detection system and is beginning the engineering phase for subsequent improvements (Defense Daily, Jan. 7).

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the modest overall increase in the DHS budget is “fitting given the continuing threats we face from terrorists and natural disasters.” Lieberman said he’s “pleased” with the increase for cyber security and for the recognition for “vigilant security at the nation’s ports of entry and for rail and transit security.”

The proposal includes $50 million for 15 new Visual Intermodal Protection Response (VIPR) teams at the Transportation Security Administration to provide rapid, random and unannounced force protection at transit hubs throughout the country. TSA uses the VIPR teams, which include explosives detection canines, to provide an unpredictable element of security and to add a deterrent presence and detection capabilities.

The budget will also propose to increase aviation passenger security fees beginning in 2012 to offset costs associated with the TSA screening of airline passengers. Current fees pay for 36 percent of the cost of aviation security and the proposal would take that over 50 percent of the estimated costs of passenger and baggage screening.

Also for TSA, the budget would add 55 Bomb Appraisal Officers who specialize in explosives and improvised explosive device recognition and includes $64 million to modernize the information technology infrastructure used to screen travelers and workers.

For border security, $368 million is requested to support the current force of 20,000 Border Patrol officers. Another $45 million is provided for Customs and Border Protection to expand an exit pilot project at key land ports of entry related to H2A seasonal agricultural workers. The program requires these workers to register their departure through designated ports when leaving the United States. The US-VISIT office is working with CBP on this project and will provide the technology.

For Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the budget would provide $1.4 billion for the program to help identify illegal aliens who commit crimes and for their quick removal from the country. Another $110 million is provided to expand the E-Verify program, which helps U.S. employers comply with immigration laws when it comes to hiring workers.

The request also includes $36 million for bio-surveillance activities, specifically mentioning the next-generation BioWatch effort, called Gen-3. Congress appropriated $111.6 million for BioWatch in FY ’09. It’s unclear from the brief FY ’10 budget summary what the administration’s plans are for BioWatch. According to a notice in the web site last week, DHS plans to host an Industry Day on March 4 to discuss the acquisition plans for Gen-3, which refers to autonomous bio-detection systems that will replace the current labor intensive bio-collection devices deployed in major U.S. cities.

In the area of assistance to states and localities, the budget would set aside $260 million within the existing Homeland Security Grant program related to improve “information sharing and analysis by adding thousands more state and local level intelligence analysts.” This emphasis on shoring up the intelligence capabilities at the local level is in line with Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano’s statements this week that state fusion centers need to be bolstered (Defense Daily, Feb. 26).

Regarding the budget for states and localities, Lieberman said it appears that the request will “remain constant” for grants to first responders. He also expressed concern that the summary “neglects to mention FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) response and recovery responsibilities, which we know from hard experience need buttressing.”

The budget will also call for terminating the Coast Guard’s LORAN-C long-range radio navigation system for a $36 million savings in FY ’10 and $190 million over five years.