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Washington Post: Obama budget would require ‘difficult choices’ for Homeland Security

By Josh Hicks -- The Washington Post

President Obama’s 2015 budget would reduce overall Homeland Security funding by nearly 3 percent but spend more on some of the department’s most expensive agencies.

The net reduction would create new challenges for a sprawling 10-year-old organization trying to deal with evolving threats that involve terrorism, cybersecurity, natural disasters and border management.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday that the budget blueprint provides adequate funding to meet DHS’s basic mission requirements, but he added that the cuts would require “difficult choices to align resources to address the greatest needs of the department.”

Under the White House proposal, DHS would receive $38.2 billion next year, compared to $39.3 billion in 2014. Despite that proposed cut, some of the department’s individual agencies would see substantial increases.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would benefit most under the president’s plan with an 8.2-percent jump in appropriations, followed by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office with a 6.7-percent increase and Customs and Border Protection with 2.6 percent more cash.

The Science and Technology Directorate would take the hardest hit with 12.2 percent less funding, while the Coast Guard and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would lose about 4 percent apiece. The Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport screening, would see a slight cut of 0.8 percent.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) criticized the president for proposing cuts to law-enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard and ICE while requesting more money for a DHS headquarters project.

“The president increases funding for more bureaucracy, including throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at a new headquarters, instead of spending precious funds on keeping Americans safe,” McCaul said in a statement on Tuesday.

The House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Obama’s budget blueprint on March 13.

Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said reduced funding would create challenges for DHS, adding that he is concerned about a proposal to trim the department’s grant programs. Obama’s budget would reduce FEMA grants by 12 percent.

“With a 2.7 percent budget cut from last year’s levels it will be very challenging for the Department of Homeland Security to accomplish its mission effectively,” Carper said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, I trust the leadership of Secretary Johnson and his team to make the important decisions on how to do more with less while keeping our nation safe.”

As for some of the finer details, Obama’s fiscal plan calls for 4,000 additional Customs and Border Protection officers, as well as $549 million dedicated to protecting federal computer networks from cybersecurity threats.

The budget outline would also provide $1 billion in assistance to state and local governments for firefighters and emergency-management personnel, funding for a new Coast Guard cutter and $10 million to help immigrants work toward citizenship.