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Don’t Busy DHS with Climate Politics When We Face a Growing Terror Threat, McCaul Tells Obama

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) shot back at President Obama following the President’s speech Wednesday at the US Coast Guard Academy in which Obama outlined how climate change is an immediate risk to our national security.

“President Obama sounds alarm bells about climate change, and in the meantime short-changes those responsible for tackling real threats to our national security” like the threat from Islamist jihadists, McCaul said.

Obama said, “The challenge I want to focus on today — one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire careers — and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change."

“As a nation,” Obama said, “we face many challenges, including the grave threat of terrorism.  And as Americans, we will always do everything in our power to protect our country. Yet even as we meet threats like terrorism, we cannot, and we must not, ignore a peril that can affect generations.”

Obama said, “Now, I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real. And on a day like today, it’s hard to get too worried about it. There are folks who will equivocate. They’ll say, ‘You know, I’m not a scientist.’ Well, I’m not either. But the best scientists in the world know that climate change is happening. Our analysts in the intelligence community know climate change is happening. Our military leaders — generals and admirals, active duty and retired — know it’s happening. Our homeland security professionals know it is happening. And our Coast Guard knows it’s happening.”

“The science is indisputable,” Obama continued, saying, “The fossil fuels we burn release carbon dioxide, which traps heat. And the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now higher than they have been in 800,000 years. The planet is getting warmer. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have been in the past 15 years. Last year was the planet’s warmest year ever recorded.”

Obama then said, “Our scientists at NASA just reported that some of the sea ice around Antarctica is breaking up even faster than expected. The world’s glaciers are melting, pouring new water into the ocean. Over the past century, the world sea level rose by about eight inches. That was in the last century; by the end of this century, it’s projected to rise another one to four feet.”

“Cadets,” he said, “the threat of a changing climate cuts to the very core of your service. You’ve been drawn to water  — like the poet who wrote, ‘the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.’ You know the beauty of the sea, but you also know its unforgiving power.”

Climate change continued to dominate the bulk of Obama’s speech, which, according to a number of senior Coast Guard officers Homeland Security Today interviewed on background, said is not their “primary concern … protecting the country is our mission these days,” as one said. Others said they were “put off” by Obama’s implied notion that the Coast Guard should be focusing on climate change as the nation’s primary national security threat. Especially at a time when Congress just heard the Coast Guard continues to struggle to meet mission performance goals due to an insufficient number of modern assets, which may be compromising the security of the nation’s ports and the safety of its waterways.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation convened a hearing last week to determine the status of the Coast Guard’s current acquisition program in light of recent budget cuts that have prevented the Coast Guard from acquiring key assets needed to achieve mission requirements.

Editor’s note: Also read the Homeland Security Today report, Recapitalizing an Aged Coast Guard.

“Incredibly,” McCaul said, “the President’s proposed budget allocates more money for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to combat global warming than to counter violent extremism. In fact, despite repeated congressional requests, the President failed to set aside any meaningful dollars at DHS for counter-radicalization programs designed to prevent more Americans from being recruited by terrorist groups like ISIS. The White House shouldn’t busy DHS with climate politics when terrorism is going viral.”

McCaul’s office said he’s “repeatedly urged the Obama administration to be more transparent about government-wide spending on countering violent extremism, pointing out that he’d written Obama last September about addressing “this growing threat to the homeland.”

“On September 10, 2014, when announcing that the United States would take action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces in Syria as well as Iraq, President Obama noted that many Americans have travelled to the region to join ISIL, and promised to ‘counter [ISIL’s] warped ideology,’” McCaul wrote. “Certainly, I support every effort made to degrade and destroy jihadist networks which pose a threat to the United States, but defeating the violent Islamist extremism ideology embraced by ISIL, Al Qaeda, and others, will require a robust and effective effort to counter violent extremism (CVE) both in the United States and abroad.”

Continuing, McCaul told the White House that, “To aid in this effort, the committee on Homeland Security has begun a review of federal CVE programs and policies, first to evaluate progress made towards the objectives laid out in the administration’s 2011 CVE strategy and implementation plan; and second, to identity gaps in our overall CVE approach.”

McCaul said, “It has become clear to this committee that one of the primary hurdles in fully addressing these challenges is a lack of clear budget allocation for CVE efforts and the impression of confused lines of authority for those entities responsible for CVE efforts.”

Moreover, he stated, “It does not seem like any other issue as important as CVE – which is guided by a national strategy, has an implementation plan, and involves multiple departments and agencies suffers from such a lack of accounting. This effort is important to the President, important to this committee, and important to the American people. Therefore, I request that an accounting for federal CVE efforts be specifically outlined in the President’s FY 16 Budget Request to Congress, and all subsequent requests.”

In conclusion, McCaul said, “Understanding how CVE resources are spent is necessary for this committee to identify gaps in our efforts to counter the violent Islamist extremist ideology espoused by jihadist networks such as ISIL. I hope that as the Office of Management and Budget prepares the upcoming budget request you take into account how important these programs are and how valuable a specific accounting of these figures is to the safety of the American people.”

In February, Rep. Walker, Mark (R-NC) introduced the Countering Violent Extremism Grants Act, or the CVE Grants Act which would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to authorize the use of Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funding to prevent, prepare for, protect against and respond to acts of terrorism by countering violent extremism, including through: training programs; the development, implementation, or expansion of programs to engage communities that may be targeted by violent extremist radicalization; and the development and implementation of projects to partner with local communities to prevent radicalization to violence.

The legislation would also direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to submit an annual report on the use of such funding to counter violent extremism, including a list of recipients of funds, the types of projects funded, and the amount of grant funding used for each project.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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