(CNSNews.com) - The House Homeland Security chairman Monday praised President Bush's $2.75 trillion budget for being "attentive to national security needs, but also mindful of the threat to our economic security posed by long-term deficit spending."
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said the homeland security portion of the budget "represents good progress" and "a step in the right direction away from pork-barrel politics" as evidenced by its terrorism preparedness grants for first responders.
"One of the greatest challenges facing the Department of Homeland Security is the integration of its 22 legacy agencies into a coherent counter-terrorism focused organization that can effectively pursue its mission," said Cox in a statement.
"The creation of a new Office of Screening Coordination and Operations at DHS -- to consolidate US-VISIT and other border control systems with TSA's work to keep dangerous individuals off of aircraft, out of flight schools, and out from behind the wheel of trucks hauling hazardous materials - makes sense because each of these operations shares the common goal of identifying and capturing terrorists before they gain access to places and assets that could be exploited for terrorism," he said.
Cox said a budget priority that should have received more funding is securing the nation's borders against illegal aliens. "While the President's budget proposes important support for many border security initiatives, some remain badly underfunded," he said.
Cox pointed out that Congress authorized adding 2,000 border patrol agents next year, "but the $37 million in the budget would fund only 210 of these positions."
"This is wholly inadequate. In addition, Congress authorized hundreds of new immigration enforcement investigators, thousands of new bed spaces in detention facilities, and increases in funding to screen those traveling to the U.S. from overseas," said Cox, "but the budget falls short here, too."
Cox said it is "critically important" to include in the budget funding for "a new office to coordinate the detection of nuclear materials before they can be used to attack America."
"Terrorists may already have acquired nuclear materials. The Committee on Homeland Security will strongly support the Department's focus on preventing nuclear terror," he said.
"The Committee on Homeland Security will press for savings in less critical programs of DHS in order to fund the most critical counter terrorism priorities, including specifically the prevention of nuclear and biological attack, border and port security, and risk-based first responder funding," Cox concluded.
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