Although the congressional spending deal for the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t give President Trump near what he wants to fund a physical wall along the southern border, budget negotiators have agreed to hefty increases overall in border security, particularly to inspect vehicles and cargo at ports of entry.
The compromise bill also funds the Coast Guard’s first new heavy polar icebreaker in more than 40 years and provides seed money for the second icebreaker of a planned three-ship purchase of Polar Security Cutters (PSCs).
As advertised, Democrat and Republican negotiators agreed to nearly $1.4 billion in spending for 55 miles of physical barriers in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas. That amount is far less than the $5.7 billion Trump ultimately sought for wall construction.
Oddly, the original request was for $1.6 billion, an amount agreed to by most Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee last June when the committee marked up its version of the bill. But in July, the House Appropriations Committee, at the behest of the Trump administration, put $5 billion toward the wall, with no Democrats in support. Later in the summer, Trump upped the request to $5.7 billion.
The Senate passed the bill on Thursday afternoon and the House was scheduled to take it up in the evening. Trump said he would sign the legislation but also tweeted that he will declare a national emergency to build the wall.
The proposal includes $564 million for non-intrusive inspection (NII) technology at land ports of entry on the southwest border to expand screening of inbound cars and cargo for drugs and other contraband. The NII equipment typically consists of X-ray and Gamma ray-based systems to allow operators to peer inside the contents of vehicles and cargo and is provided by various vendors, including L3 Technologies [LLL], Leidos [LDOS] and OSI Systems [OSIS].
The Trump administration last February only requested $44 million for NII equipment in the fiscal year 2019 DHS bill. Earlier this month, House Democrats proposed $675 million for the systems.
The budget proposal would also provide $77 million for equipment and related staffing to detect opioids entering the U.S. at international mail and express consignment facilities.
Another $100 million is proposed for border security technology between the ports of entry. The administration requested a little more than $40 million for these systems last February and House Democrats had proposed $400 million but the final agreement says that there is still more than $200 million in unspent Customs and Border Protection funds from fiscal year 2018 for these technologies.
Border security technologies include Integrated Fixed Towers, Remote Video Surveillance System, mobile video surveillance systems, small unmanned aircraft systems, and technologies to detect cross border tunnels and surface movement. Elbit Systems [ESLT], General Dynamics [GD] and Secure Technology are among the companiess providing border security sensor systems.
Another $112.6 million is proposed for CBP’s Office of Air and Marine for the purchase of three Multirole Enforcement Aircraft, which are built by Sierra Nevada Corp., related sensors, and marine vessels.
The Coast Guard’s acquisition budget would receive over $2.2 billion, a handsome increase of $362.5 million, including $655 million for first PSC and $20 million in long-lead funding for the second icebreaker. Congress in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 already provided a combined $300 million toward advance procurement of the PSCs in the Navy budget. The Coast Guard and Navy have an integrated program office for the PSC program.
A Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily on Thursday the service remains on track to award the PSC contract this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. Bollinger Shipyards, GD, a U.S. division of Italy’s Fincantieri, Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], and VT Halter Marine, which is the U.S.-based shipbuilding division of Singapore’s ST Engineering, have all completed design studies for the PSC and have submitted bids to build the ships.
The proposed Coast Guard funding also includes $400 million to build the second Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) and long-lead items for the third vessel. The service plans to buy 25 OPCs, which are 360-foot medium-endurance vessels under contract to Eastern Shipbuilding.
The agreement also provides $340 million for six 154-foot Fast Response Cutters, $100 million and two more vessels than requested. Bollinger is building the FRCs for the Coast Guard.
The budget conferees recommend $105 million for the Coast Guard’s HC-130J aircraft, which is built by Lockheed Martin [LMT], and $95 million to recapitalize MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters, which are supplied by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit.
The Transportation Security Administration would receive over $94 million for its initiative to begin replacing existing X-ray systems at airport checkpoints with computed tomography (CT)-based systems to scan carry-on bags. The agency is expected to award its first CT at the checkpoint contract next month to at least one of four bidders, Analogic, Integrated Defense & Security Solutions, L3 and Smiths Detection.
The CT systems provide three-dimensional images for operators and allow the images to be virtually rotated on the screen to enhance decision making. They will also allow travelers to leave their personal electronic devices, including laptop computers, inside their carry-on bags without the need for divestiture. Eventually, TSA hopes that the systems will allow travelers to leave their liquids inside carry-on bags.
Overall, the conference agreement provides $49.4 billion in discretionary funding for DHS in FY ’19, $2 billion more than requested and $1.7 billion above the amount enacted in FY ’18.