WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday proposed a nearly 2 percent increase for the U.S. homeland security budget for 2012, one the few areas of the budget that will likely see a boost as the White House battles a ballooning deficit.
Its 2012 budget proposal requests $43.8 billion to spend on homeland security across the entire federal government, excluding the Defense Department, up $800 million from 2011.
The request for the increase comes as militant groups like the al Qaeda wing based in Yemen have increased their efforts to strike the United States, including plots to blow up bombs on airplanes or in major city centres.
The Department of Homeland Security alone would see its budget grow to more than $37 billion, up almost 3 percent over the 2011 budget level, and includes a 4 percent bump up for increasing transportation and border security.
While the 2012 budget proposal called protecting the American people President Barack Obama’s “highest priority”, administration officials will likely face close scrutiny by Congress about where and how they spend the money.
Republicans, who now control the U.S. House of Representatives, have criticized the failure by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to detect several recent attacks, including attempts by the al Qaeda group in Yemen to blow up U.S. passenger and cargo planes.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration hopes to buy more full-body scanners to detect explosives and other weapons potential attackers may hide on their bodies that cannot be detected by traditional metal detectors.
Already TSA has deployed nearly 500 of the scanners at 78 airports, about half made by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc LLL.N, and Obama’s budget proposed having as many as 1,275 installed by the end of 2012.
The proposed budget also includes additional funds, about $3 billion, to better protect against a chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological attack as well as critical infrastructure like power grids.
The White House sought a 30 percent boost to a $41.7 million program to aid the FBI adapt and conduct surveillance on rapidly changing technologies like smartphones.
As for incarcerating terrorism suspects like those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Justice Department officials said they hoped Congress would approve Obama’s request last year to acquire a prison in Thomson, Illinois, but so far bipartisan opposition has blocked it.
The 2012 budget requested $67 million to renovate the Illinois prison to house high security inmates regardless of whether they include the Guantanamo detainees, because they need the space for prisoners.
“There’s an enormous amount of overcrowding right now,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told reporters.
The Justice Department’s proposed budget included numerous cuts, like $39 million for Drug Enforcement Administration’s mobile enforcement units and $19.3 million from the National Drug Intelligence Center, consolidating their work with efforts elsewhere. (Editing by Anthony Boadle and Eric Walsh)