WASHINGTON – An influential Republican lawmaker rapped the Homeland Security Department (search) on Thursday for what he called "material weaknesses" in the sprawling agency's financial structure.
"To be blunt, it is unacceptable that the department has not gotten its financial house in order," said Rep. Harold Rogers (search), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Rogers, R-Ky., acknowledged the growing pains that the 2-year old department faced in pulling together 22 agencies when it was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks (search). But he said DHS has not made progress in key areas, highlighting a hiring freeze caused by funding shortfalls at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, and a failure to better merge information technology systems.
"These are important efforts that cannot be ignored," Rogers told Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy, who was presenting the department's 2006 budget request at a subcommittee hearing.
The department's $34.2 billion spending plan marks a 7 percent increase from current funding levels. But most of the spending hike would be paid by an increase in airline passenger ticket fees — a plan that has attracted criticism from airline and consumer groups.
Getting the department's information technology and financial structures up to speed is "an enormous challenge," Loy testified. But it is "one that the employees of this department have not faltered in meeting," he said, pointing out consolidation of payroll systems, human resources offices and accounting providers.
"Timely, reliable financial information is essential for department managers in their decision-making and for our reporting to Congress and others," Loy said in his prepared testimony.
Also Thursday, aides to the DHS Information Analysis-Infrastructure Protection branch said its budget cut mostly accounts for $50 million in local grants that were moved from the Infrastructure Protection unit into another part of the department. It will not result in a decrease of funding for Information Analysis, which houses the department's intelligence unit, and which classifies its budget needs.
Overall, IAIP faces a 2 percent cut — or $20 million — in Bush's plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.