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‘Homeland security’ largely unscathed in Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan

Bowles-Simpson draft report

The draft proposal from the chairmen of the Bowles-Simpson bi-partisan deficit reduction commission released on Nov. 10 cited dozens of ways that the federal government ought to reduce its non-defense discretionary spending, but only fleetingly touched on “homeland security” as an area ripe for cuts.

That is not to say that homeland security – in all its forms, and in all the department and agencies in which such spending takes place – would escape the budget-cutters’ scalpel if the general approach recommended by co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson were to be implemented. After all, their draft plan recommends that the Congress and the President “cut ALL excess spending – defense spending, domestic discretionary spending, entitlement spending, & spending in the tax code.”

Presumably, some reduction in future homeland security expenditures would take place under the general category of “domestic discretionary spending.”

More specifically, the Bowles-Simpson top-level plan suggests that spending be brought back to the levels that were in effect two years ago, and that a further one percent cut in discretionary spending going forward would be imposed for three years, beginning in fiscal year 2013. Here is the language that Bowles and Simpson used to recommend discretionary spending caps:

Their proposal “rolls discretionary spending back to FY2010 levels for FY2012, requires 1% cut in discretionary budget authority every year from FY2013 through 2015.”

In a portion of their draft report which recommends ways in which the spending caps should be applied, Bowles and Simpson touch upon an area that is relevant to the Department of Homeland Security. The co-chairmen suggest that the federal government ought to “budget for disaster funds; tougher limits, transparency for emergencies.”

In a separate document that outlines the Commission staff’s recommendations, potential cuts are suggested in future security expenditures at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas. “For instance, in Krakow, Poland, the United States plans to build a consulate that will cost U.S. taxpayers $80 million but will house only ten American employees,” says the staff’s report.

Another staff recommendation suggests that U.S. airports should be required to pick up a larger portion of the cost of aviation security. “By increasing fees, the airlines would be less subsidized toward airport security – a basic cost of airline transportation, in line with labor and fuel costs,” says the staff document. “This option would increase collections by $1.9 billion by 2015 and more than $9 billion over five years.”

The 50-page PowerPoint presentation issued by the co-chairmen themselves didn’t cite homeland security. In fact, in a page that lists 13 ‘illustrative domestic cuts,” homeland security was not specifically mentioned. That list of a baker’s dozen proposed cuts talked about eliminating “250,000 non-defense service and staff augmentee contractors,” which could wind up chopping personnel working at DHS or other security-related departments and agencies, and suggested the elimination of “all earmarks,” which might knock out some security-related expenditures promoted by individual members of the House or Senate.

But otherwise, the category of homeland security escaped relatively unscathed from the initial set of recommendations issued by Bowles and Simpson.

Of course, the next steps – in which the full Commission, the Congress and the President weigh in -- could significantly alter that budget landscape.


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