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Public Statements

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment to restore funding for the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in order to ensure that both the 287(g) program and the Secure Communities program are not illegally profiling individuals.

The bill before us funds the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at a level that is $2.2 million below the budget request and $3 million below current year funding. Now, we're in a tight fiscal environment, we all know that, but surely we can meet the needs of our frontline personnel without jeopardizing the proper and robust and careful oversight of the activities provided by the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office.

In fact, at the same time this bill is reducing funding for oversight, it's actually increasing funding for the controversial and all-too-often mismanaged 287(g) program. Three different audits by the DHS inspector general have found serious concerns about the 287(g) program, and ICE has had to terminate some 287(g) task forces, notably in Maricopa County, Arizona, after the Justice Department documented clear racial profiling and other programmatic abuses. So we need to make sure this authority is being exercised properly, and that's exactly the task of the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

So I thank the gentlewoman for offering this amendment. It's a good amendment, and I urge colleagues to support it.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I want to second the remarks of our chairman. I think this is an amendment that, while well-intentioned in certain respects, is not one that we can or should accept.

I know it's easy to target management and administrative costs. They sometimes lack concreteness. They lack a consistency. But, as a matter of fact, we depend on these management and administrative functions to run the Department. And at the end of the day, cutting those functions will, indeed, affect frontline operations. We should make no mistake about that.

In my opinion, this bill already cuts administrative functions by imprudent amounts. It already slashes funding for offices at the departmental level, for example, by 21 percent below the administration's request.

So while this amendment may be appealing to some, I believe it's unwise, and I urge colleagues to oppose it.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. I want to commend our colleague from New Jersey for offering an amendment that takes explicit account of the need for robust funding for State and local grant programs, including those aimed at rail and transit security.

As I noted as this debate began, we are indebted to Chairman Aderholt and to the majority for increasing the funding for these grants in this fiscal year 2013 bill over the 2012 levels; but as the gentleman from New Jersey has noted, this funding is against a baseline that has been significantly reduced in the previous 2 fiscal years.

I was privileged to serve as the chairman of this subcommittee in the years 2007 2010. We worked very hard in those years to provide robust funding for important grant programs, and we increased the funding for FEMA first responder grants by $1 billion between fiscal '07 and fiscal '10. Unfortunately, these programs are now under threat. Since 2010, funding for FEMA grants has been cut by nearly 50 percent to a total level of $1.3 billion for fiscal 2012. Those cuts are shortsighted and they're dangerous, and I have said so repeatedly.

After all, local governments are the first responders to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other major emergencies. Local law enforcement, fire, emergency, medical, as well as county public health and other publicity safety personnel, are responsible for the on-the-ground response and recovery action. Local communities or public entities own, operate, and secure essential aspects of our Nation's infrastructure, of our ports and transit systems, of our water supplies, and of our schools and hospitals. So, plainly put, these grants protect our communities and are vitally important in our ability to detect, deter, and respond to a variety of threats and disasters.

As the gentleman from New Jersey has stressed, our rail and transit systems are an important part of this network, and they are in many cases very much in need of the kind of funding that this bill has provided and should provide. I reluctantly add, though, Mr. Chairman, that there are problems with these offsets, and I will repeat what the chairman has said about some of the cuts that are included in these bills, these important accounts:

The Secretary's office, that may seem an easy thing to cut, but this bill already reduces the Secretary's office by 9 percent. Analysis and Intelligence, this bill already cuts this by 8 percent. Then TSA aviation security has one of the largest cuts in this bill. It's $212 million below the 2012 levels.

There are very few good places to turn, I realize. We're so often in a position of trading off worthwhile objectives, but I do feel bound both to commend the gentleman for calling our attention to these grant programs and the need for robust funding, but also to highlight some of the problems with the offsets in this particular amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise to commend the gentleman from Michigan for his attention to the need for robust grant programs, FEMA grant programs for State and local governments and their various emergency preparedness functions.

As we said earlier with respect to Mr. Holt's amendment, these programs have been underfunded in recent years. We're doing better this year in this bill, but we're building on a depleted base. So I commend him for his attention to this.

At the same time, I feel bound to say that the offset is problematic. The Under Secretary for Management--I know that sounds like an easy target. But with the Grimm-Connolly amendment that we just adopted, by my calculation, that brings the Under Secretary for Management $30 million below the 2012 level. That's 12 percent. It is a cut that, in my opinion, we can ill afford. That's already what we've done with this bill.

Eventually, management and administrative cuts do affect frontline operations. So I feel bound to say that, as we balance the equities here, the need for robust grant programs and for making them more robust wherever we can, but at the same time to preserve essential departmental functions.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise also to oppose this amendment. I do so reluctantly, because I know that the need that Representative Poe and Representative Altmire are addressing is a real one. There are vast expanses of territory, including a lot of territory near the borders, that suffer from a lack of mobile communications.

We do need to work in concert with State and local governments and the private sector to address this need. This is not something, though, that this bill or the Department of Homeland Security can take on. It simply is not feasible. It is not a DHS function.

We need to work on it, but I think this remedy is flawed, and I, once again, say that I know it's an easy target to go after the administrative expenses of the Department, but in this case the Under Secretary for Management is already something like 12 percent below the 2012 level, that is, assuming the passage of the Grimm-Connolly amendment, and I do not think that further cuts can or should be sustained.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of firefighter grant programs. I applaud Chairman Aderholt for fully funding the budget request for these programs, that is, providing $670 million for the assistance to the Firefighter Grant Program equally divided between SAFER hiring grants and equipment grants.

I also commend the chairman for accepting the amendment our colleagues have just offered. Although, again, the offset is not what one would wish, this is a case, I think, where the consideration, the balance of values clearly leads us to bring this program to the present funding levels, which is what the amendment does.

We have approved in committee these firefighter grants and we've also approved the continuation of the waivers. That was my amendment in committee and I am pleased that we were able to adopt those--the economic hardship waivers that are currently in place.

The law traditionally permits SAFER grants only to be used to hire new firefighters. That provision makes sense when our economy is booming and local governments are in a position to hire new workers. But when the local budgets are continuing to shrink and some fire stations are closing their doors and others are laying off workers, FEMA needs the flexibility to use these grants to keep firefighters from being laid off in the first place. The administration has requested this, and FEMA Administrator Fugate testified to this need earlier this year during our appropriations hearings.

I believe strongly in the need to assist local fire departments and ensuring they have the personnel and equipment necessary to keep our communities safe. When I was chairman of the subcommittee from 2007 2010, we were able to more than double the funding for the SAFER program, reaching a peak of $410 million in fiscal year 2010.

It's regrettable that we're still not able to maintain that level because any cuts to firefighter grants do result in thousands of fewer firefighters on the job. They leave fewer departments able to maintain safe staffing levels and much less to add needed personnel. So we need to maintain this support.

The real challenge in many communities is not the reluctance of local governments to hire new personnel. It's the potential and actual layoffs of personnel, which would mean reduced levels of safety. So it's very important for us to maintain robust grant funding for these programs. It's going to help preserve public safety and security. In this bill we've provided for this. And this amendment adds to that.

So I urge its adoption, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment, which would eliminate $3 million funding for environmental mitigation in our border security efforts, and add that money to air and marine assets, which is already greatly, greatly increased in this bill.

First a bit of context. Since 2006, this subcommittee has increased funding for border security by over $2 billion annually. We invested well over $1 billion for fencing and other tactical infrastructure alone during that period.

Responding to concerns about possible environmental problems associated with such a massive construction undertaking, much of which has taken place on environmentally sensitive lands, Congress provided very modest amounts to mitigate these potential environmental consequences.

Now, as a government, we have many responsibilities and priorities, and these include both securing our borders and protecting our natural and cultural resources. The sort of interagency agreement that Homeland Security and Interior have entered into for environmental mitigation is what we should be encouraging and supporting, especially because this arrangement is explicit, in that Interior cannot take any action that CBP does not first agree to.

So we've got to keep that commitment to protecting and preserving our environment. We have to maintain that commitment. And I urge colleagues to defeat this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of my colleague's amendment, that of the Congresswoman from California, Ms. Sanchez.

I think it is a well-designed amendment both in its positive purpose and in the offsets that she has chosen. She proposes that we increase ICE funding for child exploitation, and that is a worthy cause that we do need to fund more generously than is present in the bill as brought to the floor.

Each year, millions of children fall victim to sexual predators. These young victims are left with permanent psychological and physical and emotional scars. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, targets and investigates child pornographers, child sex tourists and facilitators, the human smugglers and traffickers of minors, criminal aliens convicted of offenses against minors, and those deported for child exploitation offenses who have returned illegally. ICE is at the forefront of these activities and can make good use of the funding that our colleague proposes, so I commend her for bringing this issue to our attention and for putting this amendment before us.

The offsets are particularly well chosen. As I said as we began the debate on this bill, this bill contains some ill-advised funding floors, some mandatory spending that is rigid and is wasteful: an increased minimum of detention beds, for example, and the required floor funding for the 287(g) program, a program that is very problematic and that really needs to be transitioned, in my view, to the Secure Communities Program, which maintains the Federal and local roles much more distinctly. These are offsets that we can afford and offsets that, in fact, would improve the bill, and only rarely can one say that about offsets in these debates.

So I commend the gentlelady for her amendment, and I urge its adoption.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the gentleman's amendment.

It adds $10 million to FEMA, State and local grants. As we have said many times this evening, these are grant programs that have been cut severely in recent years. While this year's bill improves on that, we certainly can use more funding in this area, and the gentleman has figured out a way to do it. He has come up with an offset that actually improves the bill.

The proposed offset is to the troubled 287(g) program, reduces it by $10 million, moving it closer to the administration's request.

Mr. Chairman, three Inspector General audits have found serious flaws with this program and ICE has had to terminate some 287(g) agreements because of racial profiling and other abuses. We have no business funding this program at levels above the request, much less having a mandatory funding level, which is included in this bill.

So the gentleman has come up with an amendment that adds needed grant funding and improves the bill and it's offset. I urge its adoption, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment. It cuts ICE salaries and expenses by over $500 million and puts all of that spending in the Spending Reduction Account.

There's some ironies in this amendment. It would actually hinder our efforts to move away from the flawed 287(g) program. It would hinder nationwide deployment of the much more conceptually sound Secure Communities effort. It would greatly reduce funding for alternatives to detention, where we very much need to go. It would lay off thousands of ICE personnel. And what do these personnel do? We've hired them to fight the drug trade, to fight human trafficking, to fight violence along the Southwest border.

I urge defeat of this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment. It increases funding for the Federal Flight Deck Officers program. But the bill already greatly increases this program above the request, 50 percent above the request, returning the program to its 2012 level.

And it's not a harmless offset. On the contrary, aviation management is already cut by $20 million in this bill, and we can ill afford to cut it further. So this is an unnecessary and unwise trade-off, and I urge rejection of the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment. This amendment would decimate the funding for our FEMA Homeland Security grants. By that I mean the State and local grants on which our communities depend. I mean the transit and rail grants that we've heard so much about in this evening's debate; I mean the port security grants; I mean the UASI grants--the urban area grants that are risk based and targeted to the areas in this country that are under the greatest risk; and other programs of smaller size. These programs have helped keep our communities safe. After all, our first responders are not at the Federal level. Our first responders are at home. And our States and our communities are on the frontlines of responding and preparing to respond, mitigating, and then dealing with disasters--disasters of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other major emergencies.

This amendment would return to the 2012 funding levels, which were greatly reduced from previous-year funding levels. In fact, the levels in 2012 were at an all-time low and were widely decried by our States and localities. So this year we've begun in this bill to build those funding levels where they need to be, and this amendment would wipe all that out in a single stroke.

The author of this amendment has made a great deal of the pace of the spending on these grant programs. I have to say that the figures cited tonight are misleading in the sense that these are multiyear programs. They're often dealing with large construction projects. All of this money except the money for the current year is obligated. It's not just sitting there. The money is obligated. Of course, after the projects are completed, the full amount will be registered as spent.

And so we need to oversee these programs carefully. We need to make sure that they're being administered in a responsible way. We need to exercise careful oversight. But the notion that we would come in and wipe it out with a single amendment the progress we've made in getting these funds back to a level that will give our communities and States the support they need, I think, is unthinkable.

I hope this body will reject this amendment.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, we are talking here about State and local grant programs whereby the Federal Government shares in emergency preparedness and response. It is virtually without dissent in our communities that this funding is needed.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I hope we've established in the course of this discussion tonight that I and our side of the aisle are strongly in favor of the FEMA grants, and that most certainly includes the port grants. And so I commend our colleague for calling our attention to the importance of these port security grants and the need for more funding. Although in this bill we have begun the way back in terms of restoring funding for the State and local grants and the port grants and the rail and transit grants and the UASI high risk area grants, we're not there yet. And so our colleague has made a constructive suggestion as to how we might augment this funding.

I do feel obligated, though, to make a comment about the proposed offset. Our colleague has made some very cogent points about the NBAF project. I believe that with the funding that's already in the pipeline and the National Academy of Sciences reviews that are underway, that we do not need to include money in this year's bill for NBAF construction. But this is part of the science and technology account, and we're going to have later this evening an amendment from our colleague from New York that will suggest taking the NBAF-designated funding and restoring it to the science and technology account. And I have to say that that science and technology account is very much in need of that funding.

Science and technology research activities have been drastically and unwisely cut in recent years. They were cut by 60 percent over the past 2 years. There's a $158 million increase in this bill that restores some of these cuts, but that's taking place against a baseline that was simply too low to meet the needs of the different homeland security components and the needs of our Nation.

So in weighing the equities here, as we said earlier, we have one compelling need and we also have an offset that raises some serious issues. We will have an occasion later this evening to talk about the science and technology account and the place of NBAF within that account.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, here we have another amendment dealing with FEMA grants. And once again, we've come to appreciate the need for more robust support for urban area grants, for State and local grants, for transit and port grants, rail grants, the kind of protective efforts that our communities require. We are reminded again that those grants have been cut very drastically in recent years, and in this bill we are only beginning to bring them back to the levels required.

So I want to commend our colleague for this amendment, which proposes $58 million, I believe, in increased funding for these grants. This is money that could be well spent, wisely spent, prudently spent by our States and local communities.

Again, I simply call attention to the problems posed by the offset. Members will have to make their own judgments about this. The money is taken out of the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, taken out of the labs accounts, as I understand it, which does include the NBAF item discussed earlier, but isn't limited to NBAF.

I just remind colleagues that science and technology research activities have been cut 60 percent over the last 2 years. And so there's an increase in this bill. We fought our way back in this area, too, in this bill, restoring some of these cuts against the baseline that was way too low. And so these science and technology--this is not free money. This is related just as surely as anything in the bill to this country's security, and its underinvested in at the moment. So we do have to weigh competing values here, and certainly in the balance the science and technology priorities deserve serious consideration.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment offered by my friend from New York (Mr. Bishop), an amendment that will increase funding for research and development activities within the Science and Technology Directorate by $75 million, and it will dictate that no new appropriated funds will be available in fiscal year 2013 for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, NBAF. I stress, no new funds.

The administration did not request funds for NBAF in 2013, and I simply cannot support inclusion of the $75 million contained in this bill until two National Academy of Sciences reviews are completed on the security of this new facility to prevent the accidental release of foot-and-mouth virus or other harmful pathogens.

Members may recall that the GAO, the National Academy of Sciences, and Congress itself have had longstanding concerns about the decision to relocate the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to the mainland unless we have a comprehensive and validated strategy to prevent the release of foot-and-mouth virus and other harmful pathogens into the community.

In 2011, the National Academy of Sciences found that, based on preliminary designs of the facility, there would be a 70 percent risk of a release of foot-and-mouth disease leading to infection outside the laboratory. The economic cost was estimated to be between $9 billion and $50 billion over the next 50 years as the life span of NBAF would be projected.

DHS has redone its site security risk assessment now that the NBAF design is further along, adding additional protective measures suggested by the original National Academy study. As required by statute, the National Academy is reviewing the site security risks again to take into account these new mitigation strategies.

Now, even if we assume that the National Academy gives a positive review to NBAF, and I very much hope such a review will be warranted, the facility has 2 years of previously appropriated funds that remain unobligated. Science and Technology has told us that these funds will permit construction to begin and fund all necessary activities through fiscal year 2013, so the $75 million included in the bill before us is not needed at this time and will not be needed in the new fiscal year.

This $75 million set-aside in the bill for NBAF has some serious consequences for the science and technology function. It will eliminate most, if not all, funding for new research projects at the Department that they plan to begin in 2013. These projects focus on critical homeland security capabilities and would do the following:

Improve maritime transit security, improve explosive detection capability for mass transit, bulk cargo and suicide bombers, provide building security and checkpoint security with a stand-off ability to detect trace explosives on people and personal items, would improve TSA's capability to identify threats to aviation security, would integrate passenger screening at airports to improve security and the travelers' overall screening experience, would increase government security when using cloud-based computing systems, would improve Federal, State and local and animal health officials' emergency response to control the spread of foreign animal diseases and mitigate any impact on the livestock industry, develop countermeasures against high-priority diseases that threaten U.S. livestock, provide building and facility operators a rapid warning and response capability to protect occupants in the event of a chemical or biological attack, and would improve the national, State and local ability to respond to and recover from the effects of a nuclear radiological attack.

Mr. Chairman, that is an impressive list of research priorities. We should take very, very seriously any budget proposal that would displace or move aside these research priorities.

So, under this amendment, this $75 million will be returned to this critical research and development function, restoring these efforts, taking them back to their requested level. These funds will permit S&T to resume research and development work on 22 projects not funded in fiscal 2012, and would increase funding for 34 projects in the important Homeland Security missions such as border security, bio security, chemical security, explosives detection, hostile behavior detection and disaster resiliency.

There's a lot at stake in this amendment, my colleagues. I urge you to adopt it.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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