The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) this month passed along party lines a $50.7 billion homeland security spending bill for fiscal year 2021, a measure that includes no new funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall but adds hundreds of millions for various border security technologies.
The proposed budget, which will be considered by the House next week, go through a conference with the Senate, and signed into law by the president, is short on what will be signed by Trump, warns Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the ranking member on the committee.
“Defunding the wall is the worst step we could possible take if we are serious about security our borders,” she said, adding that reducing funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement means the Department of Homeland Security can’t enforce immigration laws.
“I want to work to resolve these issues and craft a homeland security bill that both addresses our most pressing needs and can be signed into law by the president,” Granger said.
Differences between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration on funding for new border barriers along portions of the southern border led to shutdown of DHS and some other departments of agency lasting more than a month in 2018 and 2019.
“I know it seems like forever ago, but we suffered an extensive shutdown over this same issue,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the HAC Homeland Security (HS) Subcommittee, said in his opening remarks for the markup of the DHS bill. “It would be foolish not to learn from our past. We must provide funds for the programs that will allow us to get this bill enacted.”
The HAC’s version of the FY ’21 DHS appropriations bill, supported only by Democrats, zeroes the $2 billion request for border wall funds and rescinds $1.4 billion from Customs and Border Protection’s FY ’20 acquisition account due to the administration’s earlier reprogramming of billions in Defense Department funds for the wall.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chairman of the HAC HS panel, also called out DHS for reprogramming and transferring funds last year for immigration enforcement over the committee’s objections. And reinforcing Democrats’ hard line on its frustration with large reprogramming actions out of step with agreed to budgets, she said DHS “has abused the authority provided by Congress. Consequently, the bill includes no authority to transfer funds between accounts and it eliminates most authority to reprogram funds within accounts.”
Just as she said during the HAC HS markup of the FY ’21 DHS bill, Roybal-Allard said during the full committee markup that a recent reprogramming request to pull funding from “bipartisan congressional priorities” to make up for a shortfall in CBP fee revenue serves only “To make matters worse.”
During the HAC markup, she listed the programs that would take a hit under the proposed reprogramming, including body worn cameras, border security technology, Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft, light enforcement helicopters, and non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems, “which are all critical to CBP’s mission.”
The HAC homeland security bill proposes adding $531.5 million to CBP’s border security technology account, most of it for procurement. The increase includes $190 million more for both NII systems and border security technology.
In a report accompanying its bill, the HAC says the additional NII funds will be for deployments at seaports and land ports of entry, including outbound inspections.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) lauded the additional funds for outbound inspections to help interdict illegal currency and “high-powered guns” leaving the U.S. for Mexican drug cartels, which “kill thousands…of Mexican citizens.”
The committee also wants DHS to report on its plans to scan 100 percent of commercial and passenger vehicles entering the U.S. at land ports of entry using large-scale NII systems. The report should cover progress milestones, acquisition planning and costs, impacts on travel times, port operations, and on secondary screening requirements.
CBP already has about $600 million in pent up funding it plans to spend over the next two to three years on large-scale NII equipment for scanning commercial and passenger vehicles. Those deployments are expected to significantly expand the number of vehicles being scanned but still fall well short of 100 percent scanning.
In addition to extra funding for NII equipment and border security technology, the House appropriators are proposing $86 million more for three Multirole Enforcement Aircraft, $45 million for innovative technology, which is $40 million more than requested, and $20 million for port of entry technology to include license plate reader technology for inspection lanes.
Of the recommended funding for innovative technology, $25 million is for operation and support and $20 million for procurement. The committee wants CBP to “review such technologies as mobile mini-aerostat surveillance systems, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance technologies, countermeasures for unmanned aerial vehicles, geospatial search and rescue platform, remote sensing technologies, high altitude persistent surveillance drones, and innovative tower technologies. It says no individual project should receive more than $5 million.
IG Criticizes Acquisition Planning for Wall Inadequate
Separately, the DHS Inspector General reports that CBP’s acquisition and installation of new border wall segments along portions of the southern U.S. border is lacking in terms of required analysis and planning to achieve operational control of the border.
CBP failed to conduct an updated analysis of alternatives required as part one of the required milestones for any major DHS acquisition project, didn’t properly prioritize where different sections of border barriers should be built first, and still doesn’t have an implementation plan to accompany its strategy for obtaining and maintain operational control of the southern border, Joseph Cuffari writes in a July 14 report.
In his conclusion to the 40-page report, Cuffari says “CBP has not fully demonstrated that it possesses the capability to potentially spend billions of dollars to execute a large-scale acquisition to secure the southern border.”
Prior to President Donald Trump taking office in Jan. 2017, CBP had deployed 654 miles of various pedestrian and vehicle fencing along stretches of the southern border. Under Trump, the administration has reprogrammed, transferred and Congress has appropriated around $15 billion in funding for a new steel bollard barrier that so far is largely going toward replacing existing fencing.
As of July 10, CBP says it has about 201 miles of new primary and about 34 miles of new secondary wall system constructed since Jan. 2017.
In his report, Cuffari points out that as a major DHS acquisition program, the border wall system must go through a series of acquisition decision events leading to deployment and life-cycle management. The second event, the analyze and select phase requires an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to select the most cost effective and appropriate solution.
In executing the acquisition of the new wall system, CBP relied on AoA results completed in 2008 that “did not reference the locations prioritized by Border Patrol for border wall investment” and relied on old cost estimates–$8 million per mile—versus newer estimates–$25 million per mile, Cuffari says.
“Without full and up-to-date AoAs, CBP cannot accurately identify the cost, effectiveness, and risk of potential material alternatives to meet its mission requirement,” he says.