DHS Funding Bill: Political Roadblocks
By CHHS Extern Jackie Togno
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) funding bill is set to expire tomorrow, February 27, 2015. In November, President Obama issued an executive order that offers protection to an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and would permit them to work legally if they have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The House-approved amendments to the $40 billion DHS funding bill would cut off funding to implement Obama’s new immigration orders as well as the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which DHS created in 2012 to offer legal status to certain children of illegal immigrants. The continuing filibuster in the Senate over the Amendment is having unexpected consequences for agencies within the DHS that have no stake in the immigration issue.
The Republican budget bill, now under consideration in the Senate, would fund Homeland Security through Sept. 30. Senate Democrats blocked the bill three times this week, and Democratic leadership has said it will not support any budget measure as long as it tries to derail Obama’s immigration actions. In rather colorful language, Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner told reporters on February 11, 2012, that he hopes House Democrats will eventually support a GOP-backed Homeland Security funding bill so that the department’s internal small divisions can operate more effectively and efficiently. As the filibuster continues in the Senate over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, it has been and will continue to be extremely difficult for the department’s internal operational entities, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to function due to the problems with funding.
Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, emphasized nothing in FEMA’s budget has any connection to immigration policies. FEMA currently operates under a continuing resolution that keeps the agency funded at 2014 budget levels. “Under the continuing resolution, the challenge we have is that we can’t plan through the year. We are lurching from one to the other,” Fugate told reporters on February 6, 2015. FEMA is also unable to initiate its grants program, which helps state and local governments pay for emergency operations personnel and programs. That program should have been implemented since October, said Fugate.
Fugate went on to identify other problems that have and will result if the budget issue is not resolved soon: “as we come up on the halfway point of the fiscal year, they are going to have to curtail activities to pay salaries,” if they don’t get the federal money which means that longer delays could lead to furloughs. Fugate says he is also worried about the possibility of a DHS shutdown if the Feb. 27 deadline passes without a budget in place. In a shutdown, FEMA can perform lifesaving operations but is barred from recovery tasks which restore, redevelop and revitalize the health, social, economic, and environmental fabric of U.S. communities.
It remains unclear what the Republicans’ next step will be now that the DHS funding bill has been shut down by Democrats. One option under consideration, although vague, is to pass another continuing resolution to postpone the immigration issues while lawmakers try to work out a long-term solution. Perhaps a better option would be to propose a bill that is limited strictly to internal DHS division budget levels.
It is unfortunate that political issues are derailing necessary and fundamental proposals that need to be made for government agencies, especially issues that seem to be unrelated to one another. What remains clear is that a lapse in DHS funding would be a major headache for the department’s officers and staff, the soldiers without uniforms who already face the difficult tasks of protecting our nation’s critical infrastructures and services, performing research and developing technology, and keeping watch, preparing for, and responding to emerging threats and disasters. There should be a bipartisan effort to give them the tools and resources needed so that staffers can effectively perform their duties.