David Olive

Feb 14

Today, the Obama Administration submitted its proposed FY12 Budget to Congress. Over the next several months, much will be said and written about the budget priorities and the amount of funding that ought to go to (or be cut from) individual federal programs. As lawmakers comb through the President’s budget, or the ones to be proposed by the House and Senate Budget Committees, one of the first things to look for is whether the request to spend taxpayer dollars aligns with what the President and his Cabinet say are their highest priorities. One can then debate whether those priorities are the “right” ones and whether they should be different.

Last week, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before the House Homeland Security Committee and said:

“Nevertheless, the terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly in the last ten years – and continues to evolve – so that, in some ways, the threat facing us is at its most heightened state since those attacks.”

She followed that assertion with this one:

“Perhaps most crucially, we face a threat environment where violent extremism is not defined or contained by international borders. Today, we must address threats that are homegrown as well as those that originate abroad.”

with such dramatic language. But as those headlines fade, the question remains, “So what are we doing to do about it?” And if the President’s budget submission is any reflection of priorities, the answer is: “Not much, and even less than in the past few years.”

Take, for one example, the annual budget of the DHS S&T Human Factors Division. On paper, at least, this is where DHS should be leading the effort to understand the radicalization process, to research methods and means to counter that radicalization effort, and to provide useable information to law enforcement officials and to the general public as part of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign. Yet, since Secretary Napolitano has been in office, the money available to the Human Factors Division has decreased each year.

According to a study done last year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the President’s FY11 budget request was for S&T’s Human Factors Division to receive around $13.4 million, a 16.5 percent drop from the previous year’s funding. The FY12 Budget submission, which is constructed a bit differently than previous years so as to include money from other S&T Divisions where the Human Factors Division had access to funds, provides a further cut overall, but comes is somewhere around $30 million total.

To put that in perspective, the entire budget for research for ALL human factors issues, of which radicalization is but one, is LESS than the cost of the two Predator-B UAVs Congress gave DHS last year. Let that sink in for a second.

To study and counter the most “serious threat” we have faced since September 11, 2001, we spend less than what it costs to deploy two huge unmanned airplanes that (as currently configured by CBP) can’t spot people crossing the border unless they are riding in something larger than a pick-up truck!

As I have written previously, there are . I hope the Appropriations staff is gearing up to ask such questions as it seeks to cut “waste, fraud and abuse” from federal spending. But questions also need to be asked about why the study and prevention of radicalization gets such short-shrift.

Secretary Napolitano’s testimony last week does not match up with the budget that she is being asked to defend this week when it comes to understanding and preventing the growing threat of radicalization. She can’t blame this one on Members of Congress who are trying to politicize the debate, as she did in her El Paso speech recently. With its release today, Napolitano now “owns” this budget, and she should be asked to explain why it is not aligned with her testimony from last week.

To me, it is unconscionable that money for human factors research is orders of magnitude less important than flying a gigantic toy airplane loaded with a minimally-effective sensor package for border surveillance. It will be interesting to see if anyone else agrees.

This piece was originally posted in Security Debrief.


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