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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Bush to Request a Doubling of Domestic Security Budget

Finances: Package of about $24 billion, part of a deficit spending plan, is a fraction of the funding requests made by agencies, aide says.

January 17, 2002|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Bush will seek to double spending to protect America from terrorism next year to at least $24 billion, his budget director said Wednesday.

But that request is only a tiny fraction of what federal agencies sought in their zeal to advance projects under the banner of homeland security.

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters he had received close to $300 billion worth of terrorism-related spending requests after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Among them were calls to tighten security at the Bureau of Indian Affairs--that "well-known terrorist target," Daniels cracked--and to make "unspecified enhancements" to courthouse security across the country.

Other agencies, Daniels said, were even more imaginative. "Creativity blossomed all over town," Daniels said. "We literally were flooded."

Some proposals are new, others repackaged. Congress has also pitched in. Last year, Democratic lawmakers failed to win approval for spending up to $20 billion more on homeland security.

In that debate, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) cited the threat to the Golden Gate Bridge in arguing for an additional $2.5 billion for highway improvements and $2.1 billion for drinking water projects.

Republicans attacked Byrd's position as another case of Democratic spending proposals run amok. "War profiteering," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) called it in a radio interview.

Fueling debate on the administration's fiscal 2003 budget, to be released on Feb. 4, is the government's first deficit since 1997. Daniels confirmed that it would be "in the neighborhood" of $10 billion.

In a year when many government programs will be scrutinized for possible cuts, those that play a role in homeland security are emerging as just about the only clear winners.

Except for military spending and scattered other agencies and programs such as the National Weather Service, federally sponsored science research and certain aid to poor women and children, Daniels said, "the rest of government will need to take second place."

Bush also plans to propose $1.2 billion in new funding over three years to reform voting systems across the country, administration officials said Wednesday.

As for what "homeland security" is, it's in the eye of the beholder. Daniels' list included airport security, public health, protection against bioterrorism, and aid to police and firefighters.

The term gained widespread use only a year ago in a report on 21st century threats from a commission headed by former Sens. Gary Hart of Colorado and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire. It was given an official stamp of approval in October when Bush issued an executive order creating the first White House Office of Homeland Security.

Bush put the director of that office, former Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas J. Ridge, in charge of identifying which government functions are part of homeland security. A Ridge aide said no information from that review was yet available.

Previous analyses suggest that much of the government could stake a claim to a pool of money that has grown from $7.2 billion in 1998 to more than $12 billion to combat terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other emerging threats. Daniels said Wednesday that the administration would seek to roughly double that amount in 2003.

Last year, OMB reported that more than 20 agencies outside the Pentagon have missions linked to combating terrorism and other "unconventional threats." While the list includes predictable names such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the departments of Defense, Energy and Transportation, some other names are more surprising.

The Agriculture Department gets roughly $50 million to, among other things, protect the nation's food supply and conduct research on plant and animal diseases. The Commerce Department, responsible for export rules to keep sensitive technologies out of the hands of rogue nations, gets a similar amount. Veterans Affairs gets $22 million to protect its facilities, help with medical response to disasters and bolster cyber-security. The Labor and Education departments get millions each to protect "critical infrastructure."

Experts say it will take some time--maybe years--for the government to sort out homeland security. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a senior member of the House Committee on Government Reform, predicted that the funding bonanza would inevitably produce waste and duplication. But he said that's not a bad thing.

"We don't have time to develop the perfect program," Shays said. "We have to act. If we do anything important, we have to 'overdo' rather than 'underdo.' "

Democrats, generally praising the administration's response to terrorism, say they have been ahead of the curve on homeland security. The total funding Bush is seeking is roughly in line with what senior Democrats proposed last fall. Democrats backed off after Bush threatened a veto, saying the new spending was premature.

As a result, complained David Sirota, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats, new security measures could be delayed until a new spending plan is enacted next fall.

"Why is the administration forcing us to wait almost a year when we know we need to do this stuff?" Sirota said. "The fear is that they are turning the debate on homeland security into a debate on who gets political credit."

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Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.

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