Homeland Security Intelligence Chief Says Unit Needs More Money than in Proposed Budget

WASHINGTON (AP) - The intelligence unit of the Homeland Security Department will need more money to meet its goals next year than President Bush has requested, an agency official said Wednesday.

The Information Analysis-Infrastructure Protection branch faces a 2 percent cut - or $20 million - in Bush's plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

"We don't expect for the budget to be cut back. That's our hope," acting Undersecretary Patrick M. Hughes said at a hearing of a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

"If it is cut back, then you'll have difficulty fulfilling your mission?" asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

"That's true. That is right," Hughes said. "And I would certainly hope that it doesn't happen."

Hughes, who is retiring March 15, described a struggling agency that has made significant strides over the past two years. He said the agency still has far to go in ensuring that intelligence about potential threats is shared and accurately assessed.

Hughes' branch has had trouble hiring full-time intelligence analysts and has turned to private contractors who cost more than federal employees, Hughes said. He added that agency is in the process of hiring 73 employees, bringing its total number of full-time workers to 876.

Citing security concerns, Hughes and his aides did not specify how many intelligence analysts would be hired out of the 73 or how many contractors are getting paid.

The committee chairman, Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., said that if the branch's central mission is determining and assessing threat information, "it would disturb me, then, that we are cutting the budget."

Also Wednesday, the Homeland Security's inspector general released a report highlighting problems in the port security grant program, which would share $600 million with other transit systems.

The watchdog found that money was not always given to the highest-priority ports, and that information collected by the intelligence branch was not used to determine which ports needed the most protection.

Of $515 million given to ports between June 2002 and December 2003, only $106 million was spent by September 2004, the report found.