Congress

House formally authorizes CBP for first time

Mounted border patrol agents.

On July 23, the House voted to require Customs and Border Protection to take a comprehensive look at a troubled port security program. But legislators also gave the agency something it has long lacked: clear statutory authority for its operations.

The House unanimously passed, by voice vote, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Authorization Act (H.R. 3846). According to the bill's sponsors -- Reps. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) -- the bill provides CBP with formal statutory authorization within the Department of Homeland Security for border, maritime and transportation security responsibilities for the first time since DHS was created in 2002.

When she helped introduce the bill in January, Miller said that over the years, the statutory authority for border security granted in the Homeland Security Act has been spread across several agencies and organizations, some of which did not exist in 2002. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the new measure would authorize CBP's security functions, including the Office of Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations, Office of Air and Marine, and Office of Intelligence and Investigative Liaison. The legislation would also clean up the current statute to remove references and authorities granted to organizations that no longer exist and instead vest them with the commissioner of CBP.

"I am pleased the House has passed the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Authorization Act, which will authorize CBP for the first time ever," McCaul said in a joint statement with Miller. Given that it is "an agency with more than 44,000 federal law enforcement officers, it is critical that Congress provide greater transparency, accountability and oversight to CBP on a routine basis."

"With the ongoing crisis of unaccompanied children crossing the border, we are reminded how difficult their mission is and so critical to our national security," Miller said.

CBP is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the U.S., and Miller said it was time for it to be formally recognized.

As it approved CBP's authorization, however, the House also bumped up the agency's workload. The Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act, introduced by Jackson Lee, also passed unanimously on July 23. It requires the DHS secretary to prepare a comprehensive security assessment of the TWIC program.

The program is run by the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. TSA issues TWIC cards to maritime transportation workers, such as port employees and truckers, who have access to potentially sensitive infrastructure to ensure that they don't pose a security threat and to prevent unauthorized access.

The TWIC card, which contains the bearer's fingerprint data and is supposed to be available to card readers at critical port facilities, has been controversial almost from the program's inception. The rollout process and the screening of card holders remain points of contention for the agencies participating in TWIC, the largest standardized biometric identification program used by the federal government across industries.

DHS declined to comment on either bill when asked by FCW on July 31.

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