Congress Questions Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff's Budget Request

President Bush has proposed an inadequate budget for the Department of Homeland Security, but even extra money won't solve the agency's problems, a top House Democrat complained to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Thursday.

Chertoff, making his first appearance before Congress since Democrats took control, defended his department's new budget request as "sound, simple and ample" and said it meets the president's commitment to keep the nation safe.

But both the chairman and the top Republican of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Homeland Security's budget signaled they have serious issues with the request.

After reciting a long list of problems confronting the department, including demoralized employees and vast expenditures without results, the panel's chairman said he was not at all confident the budget request would correct those deficiencies.

"For 2008 you ask us to appropriate only $447 million more than we did for the current fiscal year, an increase of only 1 percent," said the chairman, Rep. David Price, D-N.C.

Bush requested about $35 billion for Homeland Security in the 2008 budget he unveiled last Monday.

Price added that he wasn't saying the department's troubles could be solved "simply by throwing money at them," but at present he views the proposed budget as "simply inadequate."

Although less critical, the top Republican, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., pointed out that in recent days the panel had heard testimony from investigators that they found "troublesome."

"They consistently have trouble getting information and interviews to perform their work — work that in many cases Congress has asked them to do," Rogers said.

Later Thursday, Bush was scheduled to visit the Homeland Security headquarters to get a briefing from Chertoff and other senior-level employees about their latest efforts to guard against terrorism.

In recent days the same panel Chertoff is facing has heard testimony from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, the department's own inspector general, and a respected think tank, all criticizing the department's leadership for management failures.

One overriding theme has been delays in responding to investigators' requests, and fingers have been pointed at the secretary's office, along with other senior leaders.

On Tuesday both the head of the GAO, David Walker, and Inspector General Richard Skinner told the panel that Chertoff needed to be held accountable.

"You can be assured that we're hearing you loud and clear," said the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. David Price, D-N.C.