Legislative Activity

Homeland Security Nominations

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a nomination hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee to become the next Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), John Roth. Both Majority and Minority Members of the committee expressed support for Roth’s nomination and along with continued focus by the Obama Administration to fill senior-level vacancies at DHS. In the past, the DHS Inspector General’s office has been a target of frequent congressional criticism, as the prior acting inspector general is under investigation and the last Senate-confirmed inspector general left office more than three years ago.

Flood Insurance Legislation Gains Momentum

Supporters of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013 (S. 1846), introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by nearly 30 Democrats and Republicans, say they have the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster to move the bill forward. The supporters, largely from coastal states, argue that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should delay the National Flood Insurance Program’s planned rate increases for up to four years. They plan to pressure Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to devote floor time to the bill if the unemployment benefits extension stalls. However, the bill’s prospects remain uncertain because House leaders pulled the related Flood Insurance Relief and Transparency Act of 2013 (H.R. 3693) from the floor in late December amid criticism from House conservatives over using federal funds to support the program.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 14: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications will hold a hearing titled “Hurricane Sandy: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward.”
  • Tuesday, January 14: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight will hold a hearing titled “Management of Air Traffic Controller Training Contracts.”
  • Tuesday, January 14: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee hearing to review recommendations from the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies regarding the government’s surveillance authorities.
  • Wednesday, January 15: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on threats to the homeland tiled “A False Narrative Endangers the Homeland.”  Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) will testify.

Executive Branch Activity

TSA Plans Changes to PreCheck Program

On January 2, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a final rule to align privacy disclosure rules for the PreCheck preferred traveler program’s passenger data collection with disclosure regulations for other transportation and critical infrastructure workers. The agency will apply Privacy Act of 1974 exemptions that allow DHS to insure that Transportation Workers Identification Card carriers and Hazardous Materials Endorsement program employees do not pose a security threat without revealing all information gathered during the employee background check. TSA’s new rule will allow it to exempt from disclosure certain collected passenger information because it would reveal investigative techniques and sensitive or classified information. However, privacy advocates have vowed to continue opposing these changes, arguing that they run counter to the spirit of disclosure required by privacy laws.

GAO Criticizes Immigration Database

On January 6, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical report warning that development of DHS’s billion-dollar TECS immigration and border security database remains far behind schedule. U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have spent the past four years modernizing the TECS system to allow the agencies to conduct security checks at the U.S. border. Against the backdrop of House and Senate Republicans advocating for increased border security during congressional immigration reform debate, GAO concluded that it is “unclear whether these programs are on track to deliver planned functionality by September 2015.”