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Trump’s Dept. of Homeland Security budget would dramatically cut counterterrorism programs, report says

The main security gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. (Jeff Martin/AP)

President Trump’s proposed budget would cut more than half a billion dollars from “critical counterterrorism programs” administered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a new congressional report.

According to the report released Thursday, Trump’s proposed budget would increase DHS funding by 7 percent while “numerous critical programs that mitigate terror threats are cut dramatically,” including programs aimed at targeting violent extremism, responding to terrorist attacks and patrolling United States airports.

The report, which breaks down the cuts by program, was written by the Democratic staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs at the request of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking Democrat on the committee. A copy of the report was reviewed by The Washington Post before publication.

Trump’s budget describes the cuts as necessary to scrap “underperforming programs” that do nothing for core federal obligations. While it was previously known that the budget would scale back some security programs at airports and transit hubs and cut more than $600 million from grants to state and local agencies, the report released Thursday breaks down the extent of the cuts to specific programs.

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The proposed cuts, according to the report, would include stripping three-quarters of the funding to Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams (VIPR), which place officers at airports as a public show of force to deter terrorism — in effect, a visible police presence. During Trump’s inauguration earlier this year, such teams were placed at the three Washington-region airports as well as Union Station and the Metro system.

Under the proposed budget, VIPR funding would drop to $15 million from $58 million and the number of VIPR teams would be cut to 8 from 31, with 277 full-time positions being eliminated, according to the report. The Democratic staff members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee say in the report they were told that even though federal officials say eight VIPR teams can “maintain an acceptable security posture,” the three-quarters funding cut will “limit” the presence of teams nationwide.

The report also says a law enforcement officer reimbursement program, which helps beef up security at airport terminals outside the gates, would be eliminated, something that would “disproportionately impact” smaller airports. In addition, an emergency management grant program that helped train local officials would be cut by 20 percent.

According to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which outlined savings and reform proposals in the budget, some of the DHS cuts are aimed at eliminating redundant programs taking on state and local responsibilities. The law enforcement reimbursement programs at airports, meanwhile, are described as “no longer necessary” given that local authorities have had time to shift resources and priorities since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In response to questions about the report’s conclusions and Trump’s proposed budget, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security pointed to a statement from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly praising a House appropriations bill released this week. Kelly said the bill “prioritizes the most pressing issues facing our department,” adding: “It supports critical aviation security, disaster relief, cybersecurity, and immigration enforcement measures, which are all essential to protecting our nation and preserving our way of life.”

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A spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s chairman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report released Thursday.

According to the Senate committee report, grant programs aimed at helping local efforts to fight terrorism would also be cut back, something that has drawn some ire from local law enforcement leaders. When Trump’s budget proposal was released, James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner, said that the changes would target “the backbone of our entire counterterrorism apparatus.”

In an Atlantic article, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff and two former Transportation Security Administration administrators argued against changes to airport security staffing, saying that “an administration that decreases its investment in, and diminishes its focus on, emergency management, runs the risk of large-scale calamity when disaster inevitably strikes.”

The White House budget blueprint released earlier this year said the DHS funding “eliminates and reduces unauthorized and under-performing programs,” including a reduction in the visible response program. According to the budget release, the White House said the document “prioritizes DHS law enforcement operations, proposes critical investments in front line border security, and funds continued development of strong cybersecurity defenses.”

It also allotted money for protecting federal networks and other infrastructure from cyber attacks and emphasized border security and immigration. The Senate report released Thursday states that “despite deep reductions to critical counterterrorism programs at DHS,” the budget allots almost $1.6 billion to build Trump’s long-promised wall along the border with Mexico.

“We are absolutely dead serious about the wall,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, said during a press briefing earlier this year. “In fact, after taking care of national security and the vets, my guess is, it’s in the president’s top three. In fact, I know for a fact that it is.”

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