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Transcript of Media Conference Call with DHS Officials on Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Proposal

Release Date: 
May 7, 2009

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010

Press Secretary Sara Kuban: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Sara Kuban and I'm the press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security [DHS]. Today the purpose of this conference call is to discuss the upcoming year fiscal budget that has been announced today by President Obama.

With us today we have Peggy Sherry, who is the Acting Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Homeland Security. Peggy will give a brief statement and then she'll be able to answer your questions.

I know that we have a lot of folks on the line today, and we are going to do our very best to get through each and every one of you to get at least one question asked; however, given time constraints, and busy schedules, we may not be able to do that. So if you do have follow-up questions, or you didn't get to get your question asked, please feel free to call us back after the conference call and we will help get answers to your questions.

During this call Peggy will be the main person to attribute things to. However, there are other CFO [Office of the Chief Financial Officer] folks in the room from the different components of DHS who may help answer component-specific questions. If you hear them speak, please attribute their comments to—as a DHS official. So everything will be Peggy unless someone else speaks, and then please attribute that to a DHS official.

With that, I'd like to turn it over to Peggy to say a few words.

Ms. Sherry: Thank you, Sara. Good afternoon. I'm Peggy Sherry, the Acting Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, and thank you for participating in this call.

This year's budget focuses on reduction and savings, which will help pave the way for a strong economic future. It supports the Secretary's efforts in guarding against terrorism; securing our borders; enforcing smart and tough immigration laws; improving our preparation for, response to and recover from disasters; and unifying DHS.

In this budget, no new programs are being added, and programs that are ineffective are being terminated. The administration proposes to eliminate items that represent stovepipes or have provided little return on the security investment or where technology is obsolete. This is estimated around $67 million. The budget proposal reflects that state, local and tribal partnerships are a priority for this administration. The request for grants is $3.9 billion, which represents an increase of about $1.6 billion from last year—increased figures, including spending for priorities that were previously neglected and inadequately funded.

At this time, we'll be happy to take questions from you on the budget.

Ms. Kuban: Thank you, Peggy. Now, Mr. Moderator, we can open up for questions. For those of you that are on the call and probably taking notes, please remember to mute your phones if you are not asking questions so our friends in broadcast have good quality for recording purposes.

Question: Hi, I just wanted to ask you about—it seems that you're funding these surface transportation grants quite a bit. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

DHS Official: Could you repeat the question there?

Question: Yes, I see that there is more funding for the grants on—for bus, truck, rail security. Could you talk a little bit about that?

DHS Official: Correct. The funding, if you look at it, when you look at—the last year's President's budget is a substantial increase over that. When you look at last year's enacted, it's a level ask if you take into account the Recovery Act [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] grants, as well.

We are eliminating a couple of the programs in the transit security area, specifically the trucking security program. We had a three-year contract with our previous grantee, if you will, so there's two years left on that period of performance, so there was no need to ask for the $8 million that was from the previous year.

Then also, in the inner-city bus security grant program, consolidating that inside of the transit security—overall larger transit security grant program.

Question: Can you talk about the increased funding to try and get citizenship sorted out for veterans? Can you tell us about that, why it's a priority, how much, and what the specific funding numbers look like compared to previous years? Thank you.

Ms. Sherry: Are you referring to the military naturalizations?

Question: Yes.

Ms. Sherry: We're asking for a total of $206 million for three applicant categories, which previously we haven't received appropriated funds for. It's asylum, refugee, and military naturalizations. The military naturalization category is $5 million of that request.

Question: Okay. And that hadn't been funded previously?

Ms. Sherry: It was not funded from appropriations. We didn't charge those applicants, so effectively the fees that we were charging other applicants were paying for those costs.

Question: Okay, great.

Ms. Sherry: So that cost burden will no longer be in those fees.

Question: Great, thank you.

Question: On the DNDO [Domestic Nuclear Detection Office] portion, it says that there will be no new funds requested for equipment purchases. Can you talk about if that's also kind of a policy decision there? It says to move to a new—transition to a new funding mechanism. And also, on bio [BioWatch] and Securing the Cities, can you talk about whether you'll be supporting Securing the Cities or not?

DHS Official: From the nuclear detection aspect, this simply represents that we have a significant amount of funds already appropriated for the programs, and it's not a change in direction at this time. It's really more of an understanding that it would be more prudent not to ask for more funds when we have a delay in the new technology coming forward, and we really think it's just a chance to take a pause in asking for more money at this time while we get the certification complete and then start rolling out and asses our plans, then come back and see where our funding needs are after that.

As far as for the BioWatch, I'll have to step back from that.

Ms. Sherry: Were you asking about BioWatch? I also heard you say, "Secure the Cities," which is a nuclear detection program.

Question: Right, I meant the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs, is there any significant change, or is Securing the Cities going to be discontinued this year?

DHS Official: The Secure the Cities program with New York City area was a three-year activity, a three-year project. This is the end of the project, as far as requesting new funds for New York City for the program perspective.

We have funds that we are going to continue to spend for this year that were previously appropriated—it's a small amount of money left on what we previously appropriated. Nothing is being requested this year for the New York City pilot.

Ms. Sherry: And for BioWatch, we have $95 million in the budget, and that will support the continued testing and evaluation of technologies and the operation and maintenance of technologies that are already deployed.

Question: Good afternoon. I just wanted to ask if you could walk through the changes that you're making on support for the fence barrier program along the border, the worksite enforcement program, and the employer prosecution program?

DHS Official: In terms of funding for the fence, there's a—that is part of the Secure Border Initiative funding. There are additional funds for implementation, some additional roads, lights, some additional tactical infrastructure.

In terms of any particular set additional miles of fence, there's nothing specifically identified for any further miles of fence. We are continuing to finish up on the fencing to get as close to the 670 miles of fence that had been previously identified and the Agency was building towards the Secure Fence Act, but there's money for general tactical infrastructure, nothing specifically at this time for a set number in terms of miles of fence.

Question: And worksite enforcement and employer prosecution?

Ms. Kuban: Can we get back to you on that?

Question: That would be fine, thanks.

Ms. Kuban: Thank you.

Question: I just had a question about grant funding. I know that the request is $1.6 billion more than last year, but I know Congress has been—has not liked to go below $4 billion when it comes to DHS grants. So I'm wondering if this year's request is realistic in that sense?

And just also, if I can sneak in one more question. The Napolitano press release said $55.1 billion budget request. The budget itself seems that it was $42.7 billion. I just wondered if you could clear that up.

Ms. Kuban: We can definitely clear that up for you.

Ms. Sherry: In terms of the two budget numbers, $55.1 billion is the total budget for DHS, including all sources of funding. So that's appropriations that we get from the Congress as well as all of our fee programs. The $42.7 billion actually represents just the amount appropriated dollars that we receive. So the delta is all fees.

DHS Official: And I'll speak to the grants issue there. The last year's enacted budget from the '08 enacted budget was the $4.2 billion—excuse me, the '09 enacted budget was $4.7 billion across all of the grants. This year's budget reflects basically the Recovery Act grants as well being in there. There was a $510 million in Recovery Act grants.

So when you put those in with the whole pot, and then we eliminated three small—three of the smaller programs—as I mentioned before, the inner-city bus, the trucking security grant program, and we're also not requesting the emergency operations center grant program as well, primarily because that's a duplicative activity inside of the emergency management performance grants, as well as it was a—pretty much a directed funding grant program that was no longer competitive going to the—to risk-based needs.

Question: So all the money is in there, it's just split between this and the Recovery Act grants?

DHS Official: That is correct.

Question: Hi. Can you explain what the language under the ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] budget is—what that means, ‘it provided for 287(g).’ It says that none of the funds provided under this heading may be used to continue a delegation of law enforcement authority authorized under this section. What does that mean?

Ms. Sherry: Where are you getting that?

Question: It's on page 520 of the budget.

Ms. Kuban: Okay, could you send me an email and we'll follow up with you after this?

Question: Yeah.

Ms. Kuban: Thank you so much.

Question: Hi, question on the cybersecurity. Back in February, I think, the initial request was for $350 million, and I see now it's up to $400 million possibly. I was wondering what attributed for the increase, and if any of that includes funding for—

Ms. Sherry: I'm not familiar with the $350 million figure—$400 million is the amount that we're requesting for the National Cybersecurity Division. Einstein 3 and research associated that would be in our science and technology budget.

DHS Official: Einstein is with the—

Ms. Sherry: But—for the follow on, and the total for cybersecurity research in our research budget is $37 million.

Question: Yes, I was wondering, with regards to enforcement on both borders and interior enforcement, how would you describe or characterize the difference between this administration's budget and the previous administration's budget and their focus?

Ms. Sherry: Well, we have in the Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) budget request, we have an additional $46 million that's specifically targeted at southbound enforcement, interdicting arms and currency going south.

And in ICE's budget, we have an additional $70 million that also is specifically targeted at Southwest border enforcement, and that includes both funds for additional agents, attachés in Mexico and intelligence analysts.

Question: This is sort of two questions. One is a follow-up to a previous question regarding Einstein. Do you have any kind of figures in terms of funding for US-CERT in general?

And then I have a second question that deals a little bit more generally with the IT budget. I'll just go ahead and ask that now. I'm normally—OMB [Office of Management and Budget] has always released a separate IT budget; they're not doing that this year. So I just wondered if you perhaps could give any kind of total in terms of funds that are going towards information technology as it might compare to last year?

Ms. Kuban: Okay, can we follow up with you?

Question: Sure, on both?

Ms. Kuban: Yes.

Question: Sure.

Ms. Kuban: Can you send me an email?

Question: Sure.

Question: Hi, this question is also about DNDO. This is about the advanced spectroscopic portal program. As I understand, the GAO [U.S. Government Accountability Office] found last year that the technologies that DNDO was pursuing to detect nuclear materials might not be effective. And I was wondering if the reduction in the systems acquisition line for the DNDO budget is a reflection that the ASP [Advanced Spectroscopic Portal] program is dead?

DHS Official: No, as I was saying earlier, it's not a reflection that the ASP program is dead, it's simply difficulties in bringing the technology to the operational side of the house. It's taking a little longer to get certification than was originally planned. So, no, it's not that the program is dead.

The GAO report has been critical in the past about the testing methodology that was used and the round of testing conducted during this fiscal year, current year, has really been much more rigorous, and I think we've been getting some endorsements. But I think we'd have to get back to you on specifics on where we've made some improvements on that.

Question: I just have one follow-up, and this relates to the science and technology directorate budget. There's a line there that says, infrastructure and geophysical, and I noticed that that line has dropped considerably since 2009. Could somebody explain what that line stands for and why it has dropped?

DHS Official: Last—in the fiscal year '09 budget, Congress added $27 million for the Southeast Regional Research Institute, and that funding was not—we did not budget for that in 2010. Congress has added that money ever year, and it's never been an administration priority to fund that. The infrastructure geophysical line itself is looking at infrastructure protection from manmade or natural disasters.

Question: Hi, Peggy, you mentioned some programs at the outset that DHS has canceled. Could you run through some of those? And I think you stated a dollar figure, if you could repeat that. And just, second, DNDO, Securing the Cities has been discussed, but is there anything in the FY '10 budget that sustains or at least sustains any other types of interior nuclear detection capabilities?

Ms. Sherry: Sure. The number that we had cited was $67 million. And the reductions include inter-city bus security grant program that I believe that we talked about just a little bit ago, trucking security program and emergency operations center grant program. Again, terminations based on risk assessments. And then the other is termination of Loran-C in keeping with the administration's termination of obsolete technology.

Question: And interior nuclear detection enforcement?

DHS Official: Yes, the budget in '10 does continue to provide the level of support we've been working with on state and locals on our PRND [preventative radiological and nuclear detection] programs, preventive rad/nuc detection programs. And we do continue to have a West Coast pilot. The Secure the Cities program was a three-year program and is not being requested in '10 at this time.

Question: Hi, yes, I have two questions about two customs programs. Last year's budget request included a request for $157 million for the radiation port monitoring program, which included $27 million to hire 295 Customs officials. I wanted to know what the status of that program is, and whether or not you've requested additional funding.

And then I have a question about the C-TPAT [Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism] program, and whether there's any additional funding requested for that program.

DHS Official: Okay, first the C-TPAT program. There is no new or additional funding requested for that. That maintains its base level of funding. And in terms of the enhancements from last year for the portal—what was it, it was more the portal monitors?

Question: Radiation port monitoring program.

DHS Official: There's no additional funding requested. Well, there's no reductions, no programmatic reductions taken, but there's no further increase for that program.

Question: And one last follow-up. What is the base level funding for C-TPAT?

DHS Official: Base level for C-TPAT—don't know that off the top of my head, would have to get back to you on the base.

Ms. Kuban: Just send us an email.

Question: Will do, thank you.

Ms. Kuban: And no H on my name, for those of you that don't know me. We have time for one last question.

Question: Hi, I was wondering if you could provide any more of a breakout in the funds going to Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs for detention? There's $1.4 billion for that, and I wondered, could you break out how much of that is going to go for workplace, how much is going to be other initiatives?

Ms. Sherry: The $1.4 billion, I believe, is associated with the criminal alien program. Our budget, actually, for custody operations, which is the detention aspect of the ICE budget is $1.9 billion.

Question: Okay, those are two separate items, then.

Ms. Sherry: Yes.

Question: And what about the workplace sort of enforcement?

Ms. Sherry: It is level funded in the '10 budget, but I'd have to get back to you with the exact amount.

Question: Okay, should I email Sara?

Ms. Kuban: Yes, please. Please send me an email.

Question: Okay.

Ms. Kuban: Okay, well, at this time our folks have to get on to another meeting, so I just want to thank everyone for participating today. Like I said, if you guys have any questions, please feel free to give us a call, or you can send me an email.

Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.

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