On May 9, 2007, the House passed the FY 2008 Homeland Security Authorization, H.R. 1684, which authorizes $39.8 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2008. Because the President has been submitting budgets that underfunded key homeland security priorities over the last few years, this bill is authorizing $2.1 billion more than the President requested.
This new Democratic-led Congress will be the first Congress to get a Homeland Security Authorization bill signed into law. The previous Congresses failed to get a Department of Homeland Security authorization bill signed into law. For example, in 2005, the House passed an authorization bill, but the Senate never did. In 2006, neither the House nor the Senate passed an authorization bill. This year, the new Democratic-led Congress is determined to get its work done.
Specifically, this bill will:
Restore numerous cuts in First Responder programs in the President's budget. For example, the bill restores the President's 52 percent cut in the State Homeland Security Grant program, which provides grants to first responders in all 50 states to prevent, prepare for and respond to an act of terrorism. It also restores the President's 55 percent cut in Firefighter Assistance Grants, which have proven to be effective in helping local fire departments with tools to enhance their ability to respond to large disasters. The bill also restores the President's elimination of the Local Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention program, and elimination of the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) program.
Strengthen and streamline management. To help improve policymaking at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and promote long-term planning, the bill establishes a Directorate for Policy. The bill also contains provisions to streamline management, such as designating chief operating officers who would have direct authority over that officer's counterparts in the department's component agencies. The bill also directs the DHS Secretary to undertake a Comprehensive Homeland Security Review at the beginning of every new presidential administration, similar to the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Review.
Reform contracting to enhance accountability. To begin building expertise in procurement at the Department, the bill requires the Chief Procurement Officer to create courses to train acquisitions employees about homeland security procurement. It also requires the DHS to consider past performance of a firm before deciding whether to award a new contract. As part of a contract bid, each firm seeking the contract must submit information regarding its past performance of federal, state, local and private sector contracts. The bill also enhances accountability in contracting by requiring each bidder to certify that they are not in default on any payment to the government or delinquent on their taxes.
Improve oversight. The bill authorizes $108.5 million for DHS's Office of Inspector General, $9 million more than the President's request, to provide additional resources to improve capacity for oversight of the department. It also creates a new authorization liaison officer to keep the authorizing committees better informed of DHS's activities.
Ensure Department of Homeland Security employees are given the same protections as other civil service employees. To ensure that DHS employees are afforded the same protections as other civil service employees, the bill strips the department of the authority to develop its own personnel management system.
Improve information sharing. The bill includes several provisions to improve information sharing, including establishing a State and Local Fusion Center program at DHS. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, numerous state and local authorities responsible for security established intelligence “fusion” centers, to improve information sharing and help prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. This new program will allow DHS to partner with these state and local centers and embed DHS employees and retired law enforcement at these centers.
Improve science, technology, and cybersecurity at DHS. Not later than 120 days after enactment, the Under Secretary for Science and Technology must submit a strategic plan to Congress on improving science and technology capabilities at DHS. The bill also establishes an Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, responsible for detecting vulnerabilities to cyber attacks and developing a plan for continuation of operations in the event of an attack.
Enhance bioterrorism preparedness. The bill includes several provisions to enhance bioterrorism preparedness, including reauthorizing the Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) Program, which the President is once again proposing to eliminate. The bill authorizes MMRS at $63 million a year, for five years, to support local jurisdictions in enhancing all-hazards response capabilities to manage mass casualty incidents by systematically enhancing and integrating first responders, public health personnel, emergency management personnel, and volunteers.