Tuesday, September 22, 2015

HR 3503 Introduced – DHS Fusion Center Support

Two weeks ago Rep. McSally (R,AZ) introduced HR 3503, the Department of Homeland Security Support to Fusion Centers Act of 2015. It would require DHS to examine the level of support that it was providing to fusion centers around the country and address security clearance issues for fusion center analysts.

Support Requirements

Section 2 of the bill would require the DHS Secretary to “conduct a needs assessment of Department personnel assigned to fusion centers” {§2(a)} in accordance with the requirements of 6 USC 124h(c). The bill requires specific attention be given to the need for additional personnel from:

• US Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Coast Guard for fusion centers located near border and coastal areas; and
• Transportation Security Administration for fusion centers located in jurisdictions with large and medium hub airports.

The Secretary is given 120 to complete the needs assessment and 60 days thereafter to provide a report to Congress on the plan for fulfilling the needs identified.

Section 3 of the bill would require the Under Secretary for Intelligence to “shall establish a program to provide eligibility for access to information classified as Top Secret” for State and local analysts located in fusion centers. A report to Congress on the progress of implementation of this would be required in two years.

Moving Forward

McSally is a junior (but very influential; she is Chair of the Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee) member of the House Homeland Security Committee so she does have political pull to move this bill along through Committee. Add to that the fact that Committee Chair and the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee Chair are cosponsors and we can see why this bill was considered in a subcommittee markup last week; less than a week after it was introduced. The bill was recommended to the full Committee without amendments on a voice vote.

This bill will almost certainly come to the full Committee next month where it will pass with a substantial bipartisan vote. Whether and when it comes to the House floor will depend on how the bill is prioritized by Chairman McCaul (R,TX). Due to its non-controversial nature and bipartisan support it would be considered under suspension of the rules without further amendments. If considered by the House it would pass with substantial bipartisan support.


While there is nothing in the bill that is the least bit controversial there are some things that are clearly missing. There is nothing in this bill (or the underlying statute) that would provide additional intelligence capabilities for other specialized potential threats.  For example there is no mention of major ground transportation hubs or areas with large chemical manufacturing concentrations. Both of these areas would be high-threat areas with specific intelligence analysis requirements.

I suspect that a large part of reason for the mention of these areas is that there are no large organizations that would have the people necessary to spare to man such posts. The TSA ground folks and the CFATS folks are woefully undermanned and underfunded and have not been provided with a real intelligence analysis component in any case.

It would be helpful if this bill were to include a needs analysis requirement to examine the potential need for specialized intelligence analysis capability in these two areas to support fusion centers as well as a requirement to identify other specialized intelligence categories that might be needed by fusion centers.

The need for access to Top Secret intelligence information at the fusion center level is probably justified. I don’t think that there would be a high volume of such information, but the TS clearance process is so involved that there is no quick way to approve such clearances if a real specific need does arrive.

The problem the Congress continues to ignore, however, when directing DHS and other agencies to share classified intelligence with non-Federal agencies and organizations is that there is a steep cost associated with the communications facilities and storage requirements for classified information.  I think that it would be appropriate in this legislation for DHS to report on the specific costs to fusion centers for adding the capability to transmit, receive and store Top Secret materials.

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