Tuesday, July 14, 2015

HS Committee to Mark-Up DHS Spending Bill

As I mentioned yesterday the House Appropriations Committee is meeting today to mark-up their FY 2016 DHS spending bill. I have had a chance to review both the text of the bill and the committee report that were approved out of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. As expected there is no specific language in the bill that makes any changes in chemical security, chemical transportation security, or cybersecurity operations by DHS. There are, again as I have come to expect, a number of interesting things to be found in the draft Committee Report.

Personnel Spending Cuts

One area that I am seeing almost across the board is a decrease in spending from the Budget request for personnel accounts. The description that I see repeated throughout the report is:

“The recommendation includes reductions to the request corresponding to the amounts associated with the pay raise assumed in the President’s budget, as well as reductions due to projected underexecution of personnel funds.”

The ‘underexecution of personnel funds’ refers to the Departments difficulties in hiring and retaining qualified personnel. This means that almost every organization in the Department has fewer personnel than authorized and thus ends up with excess money in their accounts. In true bureaucratic fashion, that money is not simply returned to the Treasury, but spent on other things not specifically approved by Congress.

Transport of Security-Sensitive Materials

In the discussion of TSA funding the draft report (pg 52) takes DHS to task for not completing their required actions to improve tracking of Tier 1 highway security-sensitive materials (HSSM). These requirements were outlined in §1554 of the 9/11 Act (PL 110-53) and were supposed to have been completed within six month of the enactment of that bill (August 3rd, 2007).

That law required the DHS Secretary to develop a program to facilitate the tracking of motor carrier shipments of security-sensitive materials and to equip vehicles used in such shipments with technology that provides {§1554(a)(1)}:

Frequent or continuous communications;
Vehicle position location and tracking capabilities; and
A feature that allows a driver of such vehicles to broadcast an emergency distress signal.

The Report notes that TSA is expecting to have an interim system completed by the end of this year.

Chemical Security

The Report notes (pg 71) that they are recommending $9.9 million less than FY 2015 for Infrastructure Security Compliance, the budget item that, among other things, covers the CFATS program. Part of this is due to the personnel cost issues described above, but another part is a reduction in the spending for the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program (ANSP) required by 6 USC 488 et seq.

The Committee notes that the Department is having problems with the cost-benefit calculations used to justify the program and does not believe that the Department will have a final rule in place for enforcement purposes in FY 2016. Thus the Committee removed the money requested for ANSP enforcement activities. The Report recommends that ISCD work with stakeholder “through a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking, to reduce the cost burden while preserving strong security benefits” (pg 72).

Moving Forward

The Committee will finish their work on this bill today and I expect that it will come to the floor under an open rule in the next week or two, certainly before the August recess. The bill will probably pass in the House (the question will be how many Conservative Republicans will vote nay). When it gets to the Senate its fate is much less certain. In all probability it will not make it to the floor of the Senate before the end of the fiscal year so this will get rolled (hopefully) into a continuing resolution.

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