The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday approved seven bills, including one that repeals the authority of the Department of Homeland Security to waive legal requirements for building new barriers aimed at securing the nation’s borders.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee chairman, said at the outset of the markup that the waiver authority was used five times during the administration of President George W. Bush and six times so far in the Trump administration.
As a result of one of the waivers during the Bush administration, Thompson said a five-foot tall concrete barrier was built on a flood plain in Nogales, Ariz., without regard to federal, state and local environmental and zoning laws, pointing out that in 2008 during a rain storm, a storm channel was blocked by the wall that led to $8 million in storm-related damage in the city.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member on the committee, opposed the bill, saying it “would make it nearly impossible to construct barriers in areas where Border Patrol has determined they are critically needed.”
Congress appropriated $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2019 for border wall funds and DHS is requesting $5 billion in FY ’20 for more wall funding. The Defense Department is also requesting $3.6 billion in the military construction account to help DHS with building border barriers.
The other six measures approved by the committee all enjoyed unanimous support. Three of the bills were sponsored by Republicans.
The CBRN Intelligence and Information Sharing Act of 2019 (H.R. 1589), sponsored by Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), establishes chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear intelligence and information sharing functions of the DHS Office of Intelligence Analysis and requires the department to share information on these threats with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial authorities as appropriate.
The CBP Workload Staffing Model Act (H.R. 1639), introduced by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), directs Customs and Border Protection and DHS to develop a workload staffing model for Border Patrol and the Office of Air and Marine Operations.
“A workload staffing model enables CBP to better plan for recruiting, hiring, and retention challenges while also helping the agency communicate staffing needs to congressional appropriators,” Higgins said.
The Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act of 2019 (H.R. 1590), introduced by Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), calls for DHS to conduct an exercise program for detecting and preventing terrorist and foreign fighter travel.
Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) introduced the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Rural and Remote Hiring and Retention Strategy Act of 2019 (H.R. 1598), which directs CBP and DHS human resources to work together on a strategy and implementation plan to improve the hiring and retention of CBP personnel in rural and remote areas.
The DHS MORALE Act (H.R. 1433), introduced by Thompson, directs workplace reforms to improve employee morale. Thompson noted that DHS was ranked last in 2018 among large federal agencies in a survey of best places to work in the federal government.
Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) introduced the CLASS Act, a school security bill, which creates a coordinating council in DHS to integrate efforts to enhance security at elementary, middle and high schools against terrorism.
The bills advance to the House floor for consideration.