Lawmakers concerned over decreasing Texas homeland security funds

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on May 21, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 21 at 10:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Despite the terrorist attack in Boston, a KVUE Defenders investigation discovered Congress and Texas lawmakers have cuts millions in Homeland Security funding to counter-intelligence programs.

Since 2009, federal grants to the state’s Department of Public Safety dropped 57 percent over the past few years.
 
DPS records show grants dropped from $168 million in 2009, to $70 million in 2012. Across the board, cuts over the past few years are the biggest reasons for the decreased funding. 

“I think it’s a setback,” said Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Central Texas.

Doggett thinks the cuts are unwise, especially considering the recent tornado destruction in Oklahoma and North Texas.

“So I think we are risking lives for a future disaster, whether it’s natural or otherwise, by not adequately training our first responders and retraining them,” Doggett said.

"We've got to stop the bleeding," said state Representative Alan Fletcher of Cypress during a recent interview with KVUE. 

Fletcher is the Vice Chairman on the Texas House Homeland Security Committee.

"This is just a symptoms of the times. If we had a horrible event, the money would start coming in. Things have been too quiet for too long and the money trails off," Fletcher said.

Another cut includes a 72 percent decrease in security grants to protect Texas ports.

“Our port security is a critical issue," said Fletcher.

Within days of the Boston bombings, the KVUE Defenders learned state lawmakers moved to cut more than $12 million from counter terrorism programs in Texas.

In response the proposed cuts, Asst. DPS Director Robert Bodisch wrote a letter to lawmakers the day after the Boston attack. In the letter, he explained that 150 jobs are on the line in programs like the state’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Program, Missing and Exploited Children, and Threats Against Elected Officials. He ended his letter with, “We cannot afford to be ill-prepared for any attack or threat.”

Fletcher hopes he can convince his colleagues to return the funds to the DPS budget.

"When you have a West [fertilizer plan explosion], which was an industrial accident, and when you have a Boston, which is terrorism, when you have those things happen it opens their eyes and it will open their wallet. They will realize these things are critical to maintain those entities to do it," he said.

Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz responded to the decreased in funding. In an email, his staff wrote, “Sen. Cruz proposed an amendment to address this shortcoming that would have substantially increased border patrol agents and technological resources like cameras, drones and sensors to achieve full operational control of the southern border. Unfortunately it did not pass, but Sen. Cruz remains committed in the fight to once and for all secure our border.”

Some examples of what Homeland Security grants funded at TX DPS:

  • Building a nine-county interoperable communication system which is now being used by state, local and federal responders.
  • Purchasing four tactical patrol vessels and associated equipment to increase law enforcement presence on Texas border and coastal waterways to deter and detect the criminal element who wish to cause America harm.
  • Refurbishing heavy-lift helicopter for deploying SWAT teams safely and efficiently in critical incidents, including hostage situations, barricaded subjects, Border Security operations, and incidents involving organized criminal enterprises exploiting the Texas-Mexican border. 
  • Developing a wall-sized video display for the Texas Fusion Center users and stakeholders integrating all relevant information from various sources for situational awareness for informed decision making.

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