Congress on the evening of Dec. 10 and the morning of Dec. 11 passed a number of homeland security bills including measures for aviation, cyber and chemical security that will go to President Obama to be signed into law.
On the morning of Dec. 11, the House passed by voice vote the National Cybersecurity Protection Act of 2014 (S. 2519), which cleared the Senate a day earlier. The bill codifies the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, or NCCIC, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and authorizes the 24/7 watch center to share cyber threat data across the federal, state and local government and with private sector entities.
The House on Dec. 11 also approved by voice vote another cyber bill, H.R. 2952, as amended by the Senate. The bill requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to assess the department’s cyber security workforce and develop a strategy to enhance its ability to protect the nation from cyber attacks.
“The cyber bills passed this week are a historic moment in the fight against cyber attacks,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “With the passage of these bipartisan and bicameral bills, we can protect our vital digital private and government networks from daily attacks from foreign enemies across the globe by encouraging and supporting federal and private sector threat sharing.”
McCaul also said that the bills are a “significant step in the right direction,” adding, “but there is more work to be done.”
One key feature lacking from the cyber bills is any limited liability protections for the private sector related to information sharing, something industry wants and believes is important to alleviate concerns about sharing threat data.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a statement on Dec. 11 praised the cyber security bills approved by Congress this week. He pointed out that the National Cybersecurity Protection Act “provides explicit authority for this department to provide assistance to the private sector in identifying vulnerabilities and restoring their networks following an attack.”
The House also passed by voice vote the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) Act of 2014 (S. 2521), which increases accountability for information security systems within departments and agencies and makes the White House Office of Management and Budget responsible for oversight of FISMA.
The House also passed by voice vote another bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) to update a federal program designed to better secure chemical facilities from terrorist attacks. The Protecting and Securing Chemical Facilities from Terrorist Attacks Act of 2014 (H.R. 4007), which passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Dec. 10, reauthorizes the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program with DHS and establishes a voluntary new expedited approval process for facility security plans and also enhances the department’s ability to identify high-risk chemical facilities.
“My report on CFATS earlier this year, as well as countless reports from GAO and the DHS Inspector General, revealed the CFATS program was simply not working,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “This bill would overhaul CFATS, adopting recommendations in past reviews and putting CFATS on track to reducing our nation’s vulnerabilities to chemical terrorism.”
The House on Dec. 10 also passed two bills related to aviation security.
The Transportation Security Administration Acquisition Reform Act (H.R. 2719), approved by 425-0, requires TSA to implement best practices and improve transparency as part of its technology acquisition programs. The bill also requires the agency to develop and publish a multi-year technology investment plan and identify ways to improve its contracting with small businesses. The vote concurred with a Senate amendment to the bill, which means it heads to the president for his signature.
In a 416-5 vote, the House also concurred in a Senate amendment to the Aviation Security Stakeholder Participation Act (H.R. 1204), which requires TSA to maintain open lines of communication with relevant aviation stakeholder groups through the Aviation Security Advisory Committee. The bill was introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee.
McCaul said the TSA bills improve how the agency spends money and makes policy decisions.
The House and Senate on Dec. 10 also unanimously passed legislation reauthorizing the Coast Guard for 2015, provide the service with new authorities to prepare for its operations in the Arctic, improve its acquisition activities, help replace and modernize agency legacy assets cost-effectively, and require the development of a National Maritime Strategy.
The Coast Guard bill (S. 2444) requires the service to submit a new Mission Needs Statement covering all of its acquisition programs when it submits its budget request to Congress for FY ’16 through FY ’19. The statements are required to be based on the funding the service provides in its annual Capital Investment Plans. If an MNS identifies gaps between targeted mission hours and projected mission hours with its assets, then the service is directed to describe missions it won’t be able to achieve.
The bill also requires the Coast Guard to submit an authorization request annually to the relevant House and Senate committees.