Sunday, July 8, 2012

Congressional Hearings – Week of 7-8-12

Congress comes back to work from their 4th-of-July Recess with only a few weeks left before their prolonged summer recess. Because of the fast approaching election this short period will be the last chance for Congress to accomplish much before November. So what do we have on the hearing agenda this week? A look at the future of TSA, Afghan lessons on ammonium nitrate and two hearings on the future of Homeland Security.

Future of TSA

Rep. Rogers (R, AL), the chair of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security, will be holding a hearing on Tuesday looking at “Challenging the Status Quo at TSA: Perspectives on the Future of Transportation Security”. The witness list includes an academic, two think-tank fellows and a representative of the Association of Flight Attendants, but no one from TSA. I suppose it is too much to ask to have any discussion of the lack of regulations on the security of hazardous chemicals by road, or the minimal enforcement of the rail chemical security regulations.

Ammonium Nitrate

Rep. Lungren’s (R,CA) Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies will be holding a hearing on Thursday to look at “Securing Ammonium Nitrate: Using Lessons Learned in Afghanistan to Protect the Homeland from IEDs”. Of course they outlawed the use of this cheap and easy to apply fertilizer in Afghanistan and [sarcasm alert] that really stopped the manufacture of IED’s, or maybe not. There is no witness list posted yet so we can’t tell if Lungren will be asking DHS why they haven’t completed the long overdue regulation of ammonium nitrate in this country.

Future of Homeland Security

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will be holding two hearings this week looking at the future of Homeland Security or is it homeland security; it’s hard to tell from the first hearing, but it certainly isn’t the same thing. That first hearing on Wednesday will focus on “Evolving and Emerging Threats”. The short witness list includes high-level expertise in cybersecurity (Gen. Hayden), the Coast Guard (Dr. Stephen Flynn), transportation security (Mr. Brian Jenkins) and everything homeland security (Mr. Frank Ciluffo).

The second hearing on Thursday will address “The Evolution of the Homeland Security Department's Roles and Missions”. The witnesses here are all ex-government employees (almost) and include former Rep. Jane Harmon (D,CA), Adm Thad Allen (Ret) and Richard Skinner, former IG for DHS. This will be a very high level discussion with little in the way of details about cybersecurity or chemical/transportation security.

Election Year Posturing

It would be easy to dismiss all four of these hearings as election year posturing. It is too late in the session to come up with viable new legislation based on the findings of these hearings and the only current legislation that could be influenced by these hearings would be the cybersecurity legislation that Sen. Reid has been promising to bring to the floor any-time-now for the last two years.

I don’t expect that much new will come out at any of these hearings, but the Senate hearing on Wednesday may provide an interesting overview of the problems facing DHS and homeland security in general.

Floor Action

The House doesn’t currently plan on bringing anything to the floor this week that will be of specific interest to the cybersecurity, chemical security or transportation security communities. It is more difficult to tell what the Senate will be doing. Various news sources have reported that there will be a compromise cybersecurity bill introduced in the Senate ‘anytime now’. Lacking some sort of reasonable compromise between the Lieberman bill (S 2105) and the latest McCain bill (S 3342), there is little chance of a cybersecurity bill making it to the floor of the Senate this month (or before November).

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