The House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved by voice vote the first authorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since the department was enacted into law by former President George W. Bush in November 2002.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, earlier this year was able to get the seven other House committees with jurisdiction over DHS to agree that the department needs to be reauthorized on a regular basis.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and co-chair of the House Cybersecurity Caucus . Photo: U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The bill, H.R. 2825, still needs to be passed by the House and eventually the Senate, but McCaul said Wednesday’s vote was “historic.”

“This is not a one-time deal,” he said at the outset of the markup. “It is the establishment of a regular process that will ensure robust oversight and improve the operation of the department for the benefit of the American people. This legislation will also reassert Congress’ Article I authority to write laws and give direction to the department.”

During the markup, the committee approved by voice vote more than four dozen amendments en bloc. Some of these measures would the Government Accountability Office to review any reorganization plans that DHS submits to Congress, require DHS to more closely scrutinize acquisition programs below $300 million, which is the threshold for major acquisitions, direct the Joint Requirements Council to recommend investments in cross-agency capabilities, conduct threat assessments on whether human smuggling networks and trans-criminal organizations such as the MS-13 gang are able to exploiting vulnerabilities in border security screening programs, have the department provide cyber security analysts to state and local fusion centers, increase Coast Guard assets to help interdicting drugs at sea, require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to update its five-year investment plan annually, and reject the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate TSA funding to provide staff to monitor for people entering the secure area of airports through exit ways.

A number of amendments sponsored by Democrats were rejected, in most cases unanimously by the Republican majority, including ones to authorize higher levels of spending on various homeland security grant programs. Republican members pointed out that the grant-related authorizations in the bill already allow for higher levels of funding than the Trump administration is proposing for FY ’18.

McCaul also said that the bill “will make DHS more efficient by consolidating and eliminating unnecessary programs and offices. This will be made possible by streamlining offices with overlapping duties, cutting unnecessary positions, and better outlining respective responsibilities.”

He also noted that most of the provisions in the bill have previously been approved by the committee.

“As we go forward in getting this to the floor, we’ll combine this legislation with measures from other committees,” McCaul said, referring to the need to include the other relevant panels that also oversee parts of DHS in the final reauthorization bill.