Delays prompt White House to propose deep cut in secure border initiative

By Jill R. Aitoro 02/01/2010

President Obama proposed slashing by more than a quarter the fiscal 2011 budget for the Homeland Security Department's massive border security project, which relies on high-tech equipment to look for illegal immigrants, because of long development delays.

The White House asked for $574.2 million for the Secure Border Initiative, a cut of 28 percent from the $800 million fiscal 2010 budget. SBI includes security fencing that would eventually run along the southern and northwestern borders of the United States, and a network of sensors, cameras and control towers to monitor the areas.

"The deployment rollout schedule is taking longer than anticipated, [which is why] the secretary announced a review of the program," said a DHS official during a press briefing about the budget.

DHS confirmed in January that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would reassess SBI in the wake of extensive delays. "[She] indicated she'd take a look at the status of the project and where it was going to go, and this reduction reflects that [review]," the official said.

Fiscal 2011 funding will pay for the full deployment of the first phase of SBI, but will not cover additional developments in other areas that originally were included in the 2011 budget, the official said.

The administration also asked Congress to withhold $75 million until House and Senate appropriations committees approve a spending plan that Napolitano will have prepare within 90 days of the budget's enactment.

In addition, 15 days before the award of any task order requiring funding of $25 million or more, and before the award of a task order that would cause the cumulative obligation of funds to exceed 50 percent of the total amount appropriated, Napolitano will have to report to the committees on the progress of the program and specific objectives the funding would support.

DHS' budget request also includes $5.6 billion for aviation security. Of that, no more than $4.5 billion will be used for screening operations, including $214.7 million to deploy an additional 500 advanced imaging machines at airport checkpoints. When combined with the 500 systems already planned for fiscal 2010, 75 percent of the nation's largest airports will have the scanning devices. Nearly $706 million also will be available for explosives detection systems.

"Any award to deploy explosives detection systems shall be based on risk, the airport's current reliance on other screening solutions, lobby congestion resulting in increased security concerns, high injury rates, airport readiness and increased cost effectiveness," the budget stated.

DHS allotted $866 million for infrastructure protection and information security programs and activities, a slight decrease from the nearly $900 million allocated in fiscal 2010. Of that, $379 million will go to the national cybersecurity division to identify and patch vulnerabilities in the dot-com and dot-gov domains, and $10 million will pay for staff increases and information sharing initiatives at the National Cyber Security Center.

To support internal IT initiatives, DHS budgeted a total of $398.5 million for the department's Office of the Chief Information Officer, of which $315.7 million will be used for development and acquisition of IT equipment, software, services and related activities. No less than $82.8 million will be used to continue building the DHS datacenter, including $38.5 million for improved power efficiency at the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage, known as Data Center One and based at NASA's Stennis Space Center, near the Gulf Coast in Mississippi.