DHS Reauthorization Moves A Step Closer With Approval By Senate Committee

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved a bill to reauthorize to essentially codify existing authorities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after the House passed a similar bill last summer.

The committee’s version of the bill would change the current National Protection and Programs Directorate to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and establish two divisions, one for Infrastructure Security and the other Cybersecurity. This provision isn’t in the House bill although the House Homeland Security is in favor of it and it is desired by the Trump administration.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson R-Wisc.).

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).

The proposed reorganization of NPPD into CISA, an action originally sought by the Obama administration, would recognize the operational responsibilities of the directorate for cyber and physical security.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the committee, said at the markup another provision in the Senate version of the bill that isn’t in the House legislation is a mandate for a commission to examine congressional jurisdiction of DHS. The department is currently accountable to more than 100 committees and subcommittees, an onerous obligation that the current and previous presidential administrations have complained about as has a bipartisan chorus of members of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees almost dating back to the inception of DHS in 2003.

The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act (H.R. 2825) would reauthorize DHS for the first time since standing up barely more than 15 years ago, including the first authorization of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as well as requiring annual updates to the Transportation Security Administration’s five-year investment plan, among other things.

The Senate panel passed the bill by a vote of 10 to 1 with Sen.  Rand Paul (R-Ky.) casting the no vote. The committee unanimously approved 26 amendments en bloc by voice vote.

Among the en bloc amendments are provisions to authorize a hack the DHS cyber security pilot program, another to create a pilot program for a cyber security talent exchange with the private sector, a report on offensive and defensive cyber applications and threats posed by blockchain technology, a briefing request by the new Office of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction on the use of pharmaceutical-based agents for terrorism, establishment of a suspension and debarment program to ensure DHS and its components comply with laws for suspending and debarring ineligible contractors, and a program for canine detection technology to lessen risks associated with current and emerging weapons of mass destruction.

A number of amendments were withdrawn, including at least two dealing with election Security. Sen. James Langford (R-Okla.), said he withdrew his amendment “reluctantly,” despite his work on the Intelligence Committee related to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections showing that “the repetitive theme” that its within DHS’ jurisdiction to deal with the issue. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) also withdrew an amendment dealing with election security.

Johnson, the committee chairman, wanted the markup to be without controversy and the focus on amendments that would have bipartisan support and not hold up passage of the bill, either in the committee or the Senate. The election security amendments were withdrawn following a March 6 letter to Johnson and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the panel, from 11 Secretaries of State in the U.S. saying it is premature to include language in the DHS bill on election security until various investigations into the matter have been completed.

Unlike the House bill, the current legislation marked up by Johnson's committee also lacks authorizing language for the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

More Stories You Might Like