The recently released budget blueprint, which requests a $54 billion increase in defense spending, makes dramatic reductions to vital agency budgets while flatlining others. For one, it calls for TSA to reduce its funding for efforts that include supporting state and local law enforcement officers at airport checkpoints, and conducting visible patrols in mass transit systems using bomb-sniffing dogs, bag searches, and other techniques at train and bus stations, ports, and other transportation hubs. This at a time when TSA just announced enhanced security measures. Just last year, Congress doubled the number of these teams, both in airports and in train stations. What’s more, the blueprint relies on funding 75 percent of TSA’s costs by raising airline passenger fees. We know from firsthand experience that such a budget device has little chance to be approved by Congress and will ultimately widen TSA’s budget hole.
Under the proposed budget, FEMA would sustain cuts in funding for state, local, territorial, and tribal government efforts to prepare for disasters, counter radicalization in local communities, secure ports and waterways, and protect mass transit. One consequence of this is that major-city police departments around the country would see a dramatic reduction in critical grant funding that is used for everything from intelligence analysis to active-shooter training. “This funding is absolutely critical. It is the backbone of our entire counter-terrorism apparatus,” said James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner.
The budget blueprint also fails to provide the necessary increase in funds that the Coast Guard and Secret Service desperately need to more effectively execute their missions. While the budget blueprint calls for sizable increases in funding for ICE and CBP, it excludes the Coast Guard even though it also plays a pivotal role in patrolling and seizing illegal drugs being trafficked through the southern border. Last year alone, the Coast Guard confiscated 201 metric tons of cocaine and arrested 585 smugglers in the U.S. The Secret Service is still undergoing changes brought on by issues that arose in years past. As a result, the agency continues to be in desperate need of additional funding to address critical staffing shortfalls, adequately cover their protection of the current and former presidents, secure the White House, Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower, and upgrade equipment that is critical to the mission.
Taken together, these cuts ignore both the actual threats and hazards that the nation has experienced since 9/11, as well as forward-looking homeland security risks. Almost every credible risk assessment points to the continued terrorist threat to aircraft and urban areas, something with which every leadership team at DHS has grappled. The persistent terrorist threat to mass transit is also particularly difficult to address. And an administration that decreases its investment in, and diminishes its focus on, emergency management runs the risk of large-scale calamity when disaster inevitably strikes.