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Senate approves $42 billion for DHS

Senate approves $42 billion for DHS

The U.S. Senate on Saturday passed the $42.2 billion fiscal 2009 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which is $2.4 billion above the Bush administration’s budget request.

   But DHS, like the rest of the government, will have to function under a continuing resolution until March 9 because the House has not passed any appropriations bills of its own. The Senate voted 78-12 for the continuing resolution on Saturday.

   The DHS legislation includes $400 million for the Port Security Grant Program as authorized by the 2006 SAFE Port Act and sought by port authorities.

   It pays for 892 new Customs officers and specialists, including 561 for land border ports of entry, 173 for airports, 100 agriculture specialists and 58 trade specialists.

   Another $122.8 million is provided for air cargo security to help the Transportation Security Administration conduct technology pilots and audit air freight forwarders, shippers and distribution centers participating in the Certified Cargo Screening Program. The money is $18 million more than the administration’s request and $50 million more than the enacted level in 2008. The TSA also received $11.6 million for surface transportation inspectors.

   Included in the Coast Guard’s funding is $23.5 million more than President Bush’s request for port and maritime safety and security programs, including inspections of terminals handling dangerous cargoes.

   Meanwhile, Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, have proposed the first Senate authorization bill for the five-year-old DHS. Programs previously have been authorized in ad hoc manner through specific security laws, but the new legislation is intended to improve continuity and coordination within DHS.

   The bill would create an under secretary for policy, allow for increases in CBP officers and agriculture specialists, and create a Test, Evaluation and Standards division within the Science and Technology Directorate to ensure thorough testing of homeland security technology before acquisition, among other recommendations.

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