DHS Secretary Johnson Sets Agency Priorities
On February 26, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee to discuss DHS operations and his priorities for the agency. In response to concerns from privacy-minded lawmakers, he stated that he might scale back loans of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Predator drones to local, state, and federal law enforcement missions in order to prioritize border security. He also agreed to spend appropriated drones funds solely on missions mandated by Congress. Secretary Johnson stated that DHS will review CBP’s use of lethal force along America’s southern border, and noted that the agency has planned reforms such as increased officer training. Finally, Secretary Johnson supported House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Chairman Patrick Meehan’s (R-PA) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014 (H.R. 4007).
Flood Insurance Bill Faces Delays
After protracted negotiations in the Senate, the parallel House effort to delay flood insurance rate increases now faces opposition in the lower chamber. Rep. David Grimm (R-NY) introduced the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013 (H.R. 3370) after his constituents were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. It has 238 co-sponsors, and last week the House planned to vote on a substitute amendment that would have still eliminated the National Flood Insurance Program’s planned mandated increases. However, House leadership has delayed a vote until this week or possibly next week to allow more time to reach a compromise with Democrats. Moreover, House leadership is seeking to protect vulnerable coastal members during an election year, and in the process has sidelined fourth-ranking House Republican, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who favors higher premiums.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Wednesday, March 5: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a full committee confirmation hearing for the following nominees: (1) L. Reginald Brothers, Jr. to be Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology; and (2) Francis Taylor to be Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis
Executive Branch Activity
DHS Reduces Air Marshals
DHS has confirmed that the agency has reduced the number of federal air marshals over the past three years, citing attrition and budget cuts. DHS does not release the number of air marshals, and did not confirm the exact decrease, but the force was once estimated at approximately 3,500-4000. Air Marshal Director Robert Bray announced that the agency will close six of its 26 field offices over the next few years; it will close the San Diego and Tampa offices at the end of 2014, the Pittsburgh and Phoenix offices by mid-2015, and the Cleveland and Cincinnati offices by the end of 2016. The federal air marshal program has been rife with conflict over the past few years, as investigators have cited the perception of discrimination and complaints of mistreatment.
Officials Concerned over Decreased Caribbean Maritime Enforcement
National security officials continue to express concerns about the strain on counter-narcotics assets in the Caribbean due to budget cuts. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly argues that the U.S. Southern Command does not have enough ships to effectively patrol and intercept bulk narcotics at sea. His statements buttress Coast Guard officials’ concerns that the soon-to-be released FY 2015 Presidential Budget Request will not request sufficient funds to support its drug interdiction programs. Gen. Kelly argued that increased funding would allow the U.S. Southern Command and its law enforcement allies to conduct the maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities that are necessary precursors to large drug busts.