Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, raised some serious questions last week as to whether the Bush administration is devoting sufficient money to homeland defense. In a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club, Mr. Obey criticized the Bush administration for being “less than willing to pull out all the stops to pay for homeland defense.”
Mr. Obey then proceeded to lay out a detailed critique of supposed administration parsimony. For example, Mr. Obey stated that President Bush is blocking $150 million in grants to assist airports in improving security. He also charged that, even as the president has criticized Congress for underfunding the Transportation Security Agency, Mr. Bush is denying the TSA $480 million in funds that the White House and and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta have demanded for items such as securing cockpit doors and equipping sky marshals with communications devices. Mr. Obey also contends that Mr. Bush is blocking $25 million in funds that would equip fighter jets patrolling U.S. cities with radios that would enable them to communicate with civilian airliners.
In his bill of particulars, Mr. Obey claims that the administration is standing in the way of hundreds of millions of dollars in added spending for improved visa tracking ($30 million); $64 million to expand the Coast Guard, enabling it to inspect more ships for bombs (currently, less than 10 percent receive such inspections); grants to enable states and localities to improve security on local buses and trains ($200 million); and $239 million to cover expanded FDA inspections of imported food. At present, the United States inspects less than 2 percent of all imported food. Mr. Obey contends that the extra money would increase the total to 10 percent. He is also critical of the president for nixing $39 million for the U.S. Customs Container Security Initiative, which would have set up offices in foreign ports to prevent a terrorist group from smuggling hazardous cargo into the United States and using it as a weapon.
In addition, he says, the Bush administration has blocked $90 million that had been scheduled to establish a medical monitoring and treatment program to aid emergency-response workers at the World Trade Center, workers who were potentially exposed to hazardous materials during the cleanup following the September 11 attacks. Mr. Obey also criticizes the administration’s announcement earlier this month that it would not spend $651 million in grants to state and local first responders that was included in a continuing resolution passed last month by Congress.
The administration has yet to respond to Mr. Obey’s very detailed critique of its spending priorities on homeland security. If the White House believes that his numbers and analysis are wrong, It needs to say so and provide a substantive response to his complaints. If not, the Bush administration needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with more funding for these critical national-security initiatives.