President Obama strongly backs the often-criticized Department of Homeland Security in his budget request, urging a 9 percent increase in DHS’s budget that would include a hike in airport security to combat a growing terrorist threat and additional funds for the White House complex following a series of security lapses.
Under the president’s proposal, the Transportation Security Administration’s aviation security efforts would rise from the current $4.9 billion to $5.8 billion. That request comes even a bipartisan group of senators last week questioned why the White House has not nominated a new TSA head more than three months after the agency’s previous leader announced he was stepping down. TSA has faced major morale issues and a wave of employee defections.
Other key law DHS law enforcement agencies would see significant hikes under Obama’s plan, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose budget would rise 9 percent and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which would see an 11 percent increase.
To address a series of recent security lapses at the White House, the budget would give the Secret Service $1.8 billion, an 18 percent increase over the agency’s current $1.5 billion budget. More than $8 million of that would go to security improvements at the White House complex. An independent panel recently recommended a series of such changes, including raising the fence protecting the executive mansion after incidents such as the Sept. 19 fence-jumping, in which a man scaled the fence and ran far into the White House through an unlocked front door. Just last week, a recreational drone crashed onto the White House ground, raising further security questions.
In another proposal that could run into trouble in Congress, the administration’s budget is proposing a massive infusion of funds into DHS’s troubled and long-delayed new headquarters project. With the project – billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington – running more than $1.5 billion over budget and 11 years behind schedule, Republican lawmakers have been seeking to end funding, and Democrats have recommended cuts.
But the administration is betting big on the project, which would erect a massive new headquarters complex on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s, a former insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District. Obama is proposing $215 million for DHS’s portion of the project, up from $35 million this year. People familiar with the administration’s thinking have said the St. Elizabeths project has triggered an internal debate, with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson uncertain about whether to continue funding it. The headquarters plan was first devised during the George W. Bush administration.