Monday, June 12, 2017

HR 2825 Introduced – FY 2018 DHS Authorization

Last week Rep. McCaul (R,TX) introduced HR 2825, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Authorization Act of 2017. While the original title of the bill seemed to imply that it was a technical corrections act, this would actually be (if it is passed) the first authorization bill for DHS since it was introduced 2002.

As introduced this bill would have minimal effect on the chemical security, transportation security or cybersecurity functions of the department. There are only three provisions of the bill that may be of specific interest to readers of this blog:

Sec 3 – Definition of congressional homeland security committees;
Sec 117 – Research and development and CBRNE organizational review; and
Sec 108 – Office of Strategy, Policy, And Plans.

Congressional Oversight

It looks like §3 is an attempt to consolidate the congressional oversight of DHS to four committees by specifically identifying only those committees in the definition of the term “congressional homeland security committees”. Those four committees are:

• House Homeland Security Committee;
• House Appropriations Committee;
• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and
• Senate Appropriations Committee.

This will almost certainly not directly affect the rules of the House that provide for congressional oversight activities, but it does serve to restrict reporting requirements outlined in this bill.

Interestingly, this bill was only assigned to the House Homeland Security Committee for review instead of the nine committees (for instance) to which HR 6381 (last sessions late entry attempt at a DHS authorization bill) was assigned. It will be interesting to see if this bill gets to the floor without being considered by any other House Committee.

Chemical Security

Section 117 provides for a formal review of research activities of the Department, mainly those being conducted by the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. The Department would be required to report the four committees on that review.

Additionally paragraph (b) of that section would require DHS to undertake a review of the Departments “chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives activities” {§117(b)(1)} with the intent to develop “organizational structure to ensure enhanced coordination and provide strengthened chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives capabilities in support of homeland security” {§117(b)(1)}.

This could potentially effect to whom the Departments Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) (the CFATS people) reports. It would not probably have much actual effect on the operation of that organization.

DHS Organization

Section 108 addresses some of the high-level organization changes of the Department that McCaul has been calling for four a couple of years. However, instead of specifically calling for a separate cybersecurity element it outlines the apportionment of the political appointees within the Department. The positions of particular interest to readers of this blog would include:

• Administrator, Transportation Security Administration;
• Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure Protection;
• Assistant Secretary, Office of Cybersecurity and Communications;
• Assistant Secretary for Threat Protection and Security Policy;
• Assistant Secretary for Cyber, Infrastructure, and Resilience Policy;

The TSA Administrator would be appointed by the President with the ‘advice and consent’ of the Senate. The IP Assistant Secretary would not require Senate approval and the remainder would be appointed by the DHS Secretary.

No details are given in the bill for their duties or the organizations which they would oversee.

Moving Forward

McCaul is Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee so this bill will obviously move forward there. In fact, it is slated to be considered in a full committee markup on Wednesday. Interestingly, the Ranking Member is not a cosponsor of this bill, an unusual move on McCaul’s part. It will be interesting to see how much bipartisan support this bill receives in Committee.

The only problem that I see with this bill moving forward is that it would seem to trample on the political prerogatives of a number of Committee Chairs. That would normally doom this bill to languish after the Homeland Security Committee favorably reported it. This problem will become even worse when the House Homeland Security takes up the bill on Wednesday. The Committee will consider substitute language that will specifically address a number of areas dealing with both TSA and the Coast Guard which would normally have to be considered by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

McCaul has either worked out this change in Congressional Oversight with the House Leadership (a major undertaking that he and his predecessor have been trying to achieve for well over ten years now), or he is trying to pull a fast one. Hopefully it is the former. If it is the latter, this bill will never make it to the floor and he will have poisoned the well of cooperation for any future projects.

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