Senate panel takes up DHS authorization


The Department of Homeland Security is inching closer to receiving a congressional authorization for the first time in its 15-year history.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is taking up a bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, and it hopes to produce a final package in a week's time, Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said at a Feb. 28 business meeting.

Johnson is offering a substitute amendment to H.R. 2825, a mechanism that will allow the bill to pass in the House without the need for a conference committee.

Senators are expected to offer about 50 amendments as the bill is considered in committee. Johnson and Ranking Member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) urged lawmakers to keep their amendments to areas of strong bipartisan agreement. That means sticking to topics like acquisition reform and operational streamlining and staying away from hot-button issues like immigration policy.

Johnson is including a measure, proposed and passed in the House, to reorganize and rename the DHS cyber component. The National Protection and Programs Directorate would become the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency under the proposal.

"We could actually get this done next week. We're looking to find the sweet spot for next week," said McCaskill.

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) are offering an amendment aimed at strengthening cybersecurity around elections and streamlining communications with state election commissions.

"If we have been attacked once, we should assume that was the first of many, and should make sure we have our guard up and we are well prepared for the days ahead," Lankford said.

Johnson and other members are also looking to move DHS oversight under their committee. Currently, multiple committees including Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services and many others have a piece of DHS oversight and hold hearings that critics say distract top agency officials from focusing on their duties.

On the House side, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) obtained a memorandum of understanding from other committees of jurisdiction to take the lead on a DHS authorization bill.

Johnson noted that "we could not get that MOU" from Senate committees. He said that he hoped that some Senate panels would be willing to relinquish oversight authority "where it's marginal," to reduce the number of committees DHS reports to.

"Oversight is important, but it needs to be streamlined," Johnson said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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