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Subcommittee Approves Border Security Legislation; Democrats Concerned over Cuts to DHS's S&T Directorate

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Location: Washington, DC

Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a markup of H.R. 2463, the Border Security Technology Innovation Act of 2011. The legislation would codify ongoing research on border and maritime security technologies at the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. The Border Security Technology Innovation Act was originally introduced in the 110th Congress by Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and voted favorably out of Committee, but it never made it to the House floor.

Although Subcommittee Democrats agreed that the science and technology programs in border security technologies at DHS are important and should be continued, they expressed concern that cuts to the S&T Directorate at DHS would impact the ability of the Directorate to carry out the research mandated in the bill. The S&T Directorate budget was cut by 18.6% in the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR). On June 2nd, the House passed the FY2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill. According to DHS, the proposed funding level is a 77% reduction in funding from the FY2011 CR for research and development at the Directorate. The magnitude of the proposed cut would force the Directorate to eliminate the vast majority of its ongoing research, including all border and maritime security research.

"[W]hen we first considered this bill, the fiscal climate was much different. We now spend a lot of our time focused on how much programs cost instead of their return on taxpayer investments," stated Ranking Member David Wu (D-OR). "There's also a lot of talk about the need to make "tough choices' in these budgetary times. Unfortunately, one of the "tough choices' the Majority made in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill was to end all border security research programs at the Department of Homeland Security, including those authorized in this bill. If we agree that the research mandated in this bill is important, we simply have to be willing to provide the funding that is needed to carry it out. "

Rep. Ben Luján (D-NM) introduced an amendment (Amendment #028) to relieve the mandate on the Directorate to carry out the research directed in the bill if the S & T Directorate's budget dips below the level in the FY 2011 CR. The amendment failed on a party-line vote.

"The ongoing border security research at the Department of Homeland Security is vital to our national security and should continue," said Rep. Luján. "However, it cannot take place if we are not willing to provide the Department with the resources needed to carry it out. The FY 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill slashed funding for the Science and Technology Directorate, drastically reducing the funding available for research and development activities. This comes on the heels of a double digit cut to the Directorate's funding in the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution. These proposed cuts will have consequences and will force trade-offs with real world impacts. It is irresponsible to put new funding mandates on the Department and then simultaneously cut the legs out from under them on their budget. We should give the Department the tools that it needs to continue important border security research, not unfunded mandates.

Chairman Ralph Hall's (R-TX)offered an amendment that passed by voice vote despite concerns of Democratic Members of the Committee. The amendment reduced funding for the First Responder Technologies program at the S & T Directorate by approximately 10% to cover the cost of reauthorizing the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee.

While Democrats expressed support for reauthorizing the Advisory Committee, they questioned whether the First Responder Technologies program should be cut to fund it. The First Responder Technologies Program is an ongoing technology development program that is focused on developing and designing technologies to address capability gaps identified by State, local, and tribal first responders. There have long been criticisms that the S&T Directorate does not adequately integrate the needs of State, local, and tribal first responders into the development of new technologies, and the creation of the First Responders Technologies program has been recognized as an important step in addressing these problems.

Subcommittee Democrats also questioned whether the bill complied with Republican policies and protocols announced at the beginning of the Congress. These announced policies and protocols disallow the consideration of any bills that do not specify the actual amount of funds being authorized and that do not sunset within 7 years. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) raised a parliamentary inquiry about whether H.R. 2463 was consistent with these policies and protocols, since it fails to specify an actual amount of authorized funding and does not include a sunset.

H.R. 2463 passed the Subcommittee by a voice vote and was favorably reported out of Subcommittee.


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