Last week President Bush signed the Fiscal Year 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which includes $40 million for the Department of Homeland Security’s Counter-MANPADS Program – a multi-year initiative launched in 2003 to evaluate the feasibility of installing anti-missile systems on commercial airliners. The appropriation is nearly 10 times higher than the amount requested by the administration, and increases to $270 million the total amount appropriated for the program.
Appropriators supplemented the administration’s request for the program after proponents of anti-missile systems intervened on its behalf. In February, Rep. Steve Israel called the budget request “lip service” and accused the administration of “ma[king] a decision to effectively kill the counter-MANPADS program…” A month later, Senator Barbara Boxer sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff calling the administration’s decision to reduce funding for the program “misguided and dangerous.”
Congress’ active interest in the counter-MANPADS program is important as anti-missile systems are the last line of defense against a surface-to-air missile fired at a commercial airliner. The systems are not a panacea, however, and other equally deserving programs would also benefit from congressional intervention. Topping the list is the State Department’s stockpile security and destruction program, which has eliminated more than 20,000 surplus MANPADS in insecure foreign arms depots and improved the security of thousands more. Despite this invaluable contribution, the program is slated to receive only about $8 million again this year.
Lawmakers in both chambers have recognized the need for greater funding for this program. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Barak Obama (D-IL) have introduced legislation that would strengthen and expand it but ultimately it is the appropriations committees that control the purse strings. Appropriators still have a chance to bump up funding for the program when Congress reconvenes in November, and should seize the opportunity.