Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homeland Security Markup Results


Yesterday’s markup hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee ended with four bills ordered to be reported favorably to the House. Unusual in this Congress is the fact that three of the four bills were adopted by unanimous consent and the fourth by a voice vote; making these bills poster children for bipartisan support.

The four bills are:

HR 2356, WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011;

HR 3173, TWIC renewal;

HR 3857, Public Transit Security and Local Law Enforcement Support Act; and

HR 4005, GAPS Act.

Typically when you see four bills covered in a single hearing like this at least two or three of them are passed without additional action. In each of these pieces of legislation there was at least one amendment (HR 3173) offered and adopted. In fact, there were a total of 14 amendments adopted and one was defeated. All but one of the adopted amendments were approved by either ‘unanimous consent’ or a voice vote.

Still nothing in any of these bills that directly affects chemical facility security, but there are a couple of interesting amendments that deserve a second look.

GAPS Act


The Committee did not take my suggestion about avoiding over-classification of the ‘gaps’ report. Rep. Clarke (D,NY) and Rep. Jackson-Lee (D,TX) stood mute on the subject leaving Rep. Sanches (D,CA) to address the issue. Rather than trying to reduce the designation to the legally specified PCII, Ms. Sanchez’ amendment added a new section to the bill requiring that the Secretary to share “relevant information regarding remaining gaps in port security of the United States” {§3}. Recipients should include government agencies as well as ‘port system owners and operators’.

The new section goes on to address the security clearance issue by requiring the Secretary, when appropriate, to “help expedite the clearance process”. This looks like a workable solution until you realize that there will only be a limited number of people that will be getting these clearances in any organization and sharing classified information within the organization is forbidden. Additionally, the physical security requirements for storing classified information (including approval and periodic inspection requirements) will ensure that many organizations that might need access to this information will not be able to get it.

TWIC Renewal


Rep. Sanchez was also responsible for sole amendment to HR 3173. It added another complaint about the current TWIC situation to the findings in §1; the delay in issuing rules for the use of TWIC Readers. This led to a subsequent addition to §2 that it is the ‘Sense of Congress’ that the Secretary should promulgate final TWIC Reader rules “as soon as practicable” {§2(2)}. Why anyone thinks that a ‘as soon as practicable’ requirement will carry any more weight than the original two year time limit is completely beyond me.

There is one additional part to this amendment that may have a practical effect. Section 2(3) extends the expiration of any Port Security Grants that have been awarded for TWIC projects. Such awards would not expire “before the issuance of the final TWIC reader rule”. Unfortunately the staffers need to go back and learn some grammar; this could allow those grants to expire on the date the TWIC Reader rule is published in the Federal Register. I would have suggested that the end of this subparagraph would read “before a period of six months has passed after the effective date of the final TWIC Reader rule.

Republicans Loose Vote


I don’t have much interest in HR 3857; I don’t live in a city with a real public transit system and these systems (where they do exist) do not directly service high-risk chemical facilities. But, it is interesting to note that on the only roll call vote of the hearing the Chairman was on the losing end of the vote and the Ranking Member was on the winning side. Rep. Cuellar (D,TX) proposed an amendment that would require grant recipients for the new ‘specialized patrol teams’ must submit a “sustainment plan for maintaining in future years the capability or capacity achieved with the grant funds”. A bipartisan majority over-rode the chairman; it doesn’t happen often, but when it does its worth looking at.

Moving Forward


It seems that there is little or no reason that these four bills wouldn’t pass if they reach the floor of the House. I don’t see any real reason why they couldn’t pass easily in the Senate as well. It all depends on the legislative inertia; if the leadership doesn’t move on these they languish as so many bills do during an election year.

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