Senate panel takes up DHS authorization

Senate Homeland Security Committee is lining up a DHS authorization bill for next week that includes a proposal to reorganize the agency's cybersecurity operation.

 

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.

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