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|5/14: Supplemental to allow new troop deployment to border
Released 27 May 2009  By Chris Strohm - Congress Daily
Supplemental to allow new troop deployment to border
May 14, 2009 - Chris Strohm, Congress Daily
The pending supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan includes funding to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico if needed, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday (5/13/09).
Napolitano described the funding as a placeholder in case the Obama administration needs to surge troops to help stop violence created by warring Mexican drug cartels from spilling into the United States.
She did not say that a decision to deploy troops has been made.
Addressing a range of subjects during congressional hearings, Napolitano said the administration has decided to keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency within the Homeland Security Department, rather than make it an independent agency as it was before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The House version of the fiscal 2009 supplemental spending bill allocates $350 million to the National Guard "for counternarcotics and other activities, including assistance to other federal agencies on the United States' border with Mexico."
But Homeland Security officials and lawmakers believe only $250 million of those funds actually would cover the cost of a troop deployment to the border.
About 6,000 Guard troops were sent to the Southwest border under a program known as Operation Jump Start, which was intended to augment the Border Patrol, which was in the midst of hiring about 6,000 agents. But that program -- which Napolitano called "very helpful and very effective" -- ended in the summer.
She said the new funding, if used, would allow Guard troops to relieve demands being placed on border agents.
"There at least is a designated sum that would be available to us for that," Napolitano said of the new funding. "It's a marker. It's to hold money so that we have the option to use it."
A Homeland Security spokeswoman would not explain what conditions would trigger National Guard deployments to the border. She said such information cannot be disclosed due to security reasons.
The Senate Appropriations Committee plans to mark up the spending bill Thursday at the same time the House plans to begin floor action on its version of the bill.
On Wednesday (5/13/09), House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said the $350 million figure, described in the committee report accompanying the supplemental as earmarked for the National Guard, is "entirely misleading."
"Upon further probing, it was revealed that $100 million would go to unaccompanied alien children for housing needs and that $250 million would go to [the Defense Department] to serve as contingency funding for the National Guard only if they have to be activated," Rogers said.
He complained that the supplemental does not include funding for federal agencies and local governments to "combat the violent Mexican drug war," nor does it give money directly to the Homeland Security Department for border security.
During her appearances on the Hill, Napolitano deflected criticism from lawmakers over the administration's plan to cut grant funding for fire departments in its proposed fiscal 2010 Homeland Security budget.
She said the new budget instead would increase funding for SAFER Act grants, which fire departments can use to hire personnel.
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