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Trump Administration Seeks to Slash Counterterrorism Funding

On the chopping block: incident response teams, air marshals, and nuclear detection.

A Department of Homeland Security official at a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 7, 2006. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A Department of Homeland Security official at a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 7, 2006. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A Department of Homeland Security official at a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 7, 2006. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has insisted that he will be tougher on terrorism than his predecessor, but a new report indicates that the White House may be planning to reduce funding for key U.S. counterterrorism programs and to eliminate one program altogether.

The administration is seeking a total of $568 million in cuts from counterterrorism programs from 2017 levels, according to a report released Tuesday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The report is based on a document sent from the Office of Management and Budget back to the Department of Homeland Security containing White House guidance on the proposed 2019 budget; the document was leaked to the Democratic staff of the homeland security committee in November.

President Donald Trump has insisted that he will be tougher on terrorism than his predecessor, but a new report indicates that the White House may be planning to reduce funding for key U.S. counterterrorism programs and to eliminate one program altogether.

The administration is seeking a total of $568 million in cuts from counterterrorism programs from 2017 levels, according to a report released Tuesday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The report is based on a document sent from the Office of Management and Budget back to the Department of Homeland Security containing White House guidance on the proposed 2019 budget; the document was leaked to the Democratic staff of the homeland security committee in November.

The budget offers a glimpse into the president’s priorities as he prepares his 2019 budget proposal, including recommended cuts that would eliminate Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, known as VIPRs. The program, begun under George W. Bush in 2005, falls under the Transportation Security Administration.

VIPR teams can be deployed to prevent or respond to acts of terrorism in train stations, subways, ports, bus stations, and truck rest areas. They also help train police to respond to terrorist incidents, such as the pipe bomb explosion this week in New York that injured four.

The Office of Management and Budget document also indicated the administration would take $27 million from the budget of the Federal Air Marshals, who protect commercial flights, and $11 million from the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which responds to nuclear and radiological threats, including at U.S. entry ports.

“Many of these resources are used in cities around the country, including New York City, to train for, respond to, and prevent acts of terror like the one we saw this week,” Laura Epstein, a Democratic spokesperson for the homeland security panel, told Foreign Policy.

Although it’s unclear why the administration has targeted counterterrorism programs, Trump has made building a border wall with Mexico a priority for the Department of Homeland Security. The wall is expected to cost over $21 billion.

This is not the first Trump budget cut at the Department of Homeland Security to elicit criticism. In June, the department stripped grant funding from several groups that implement programs countering violent extremism, redistributing the grant money away from groups that work among right-wing extremists.

That move came under fire two months later after a counterprotester was killed at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The administration’s suggested cuts go against the needs of state and local leaders, said the homeland security committee’s ranking member, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“With recent terrorist attacks in our country and throughout the globe, counterterrorism programs shouldn’t be on the chopping block.”

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a journalist covering China from Washington. She was previously an assistant editor and contributing reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @BethanyAllenEbr

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