The freshmen Republican members of the House Committee on Homeland Security Friday announced a sweeping legislative initiative to curb waste, fraud, abuse and increased transparency at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The initiative was kicked off this week with the introduction of 7 bills sponsored by Reps Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Mark Walker (R-NC), and John Katko (R-NY).
“I applaud the effort of my committee’s freshmen members to prove their dedication to saving taxpayers’ dollars within their first 100 days of working for their constituents in Congress,” said committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). “Each of these bills to curb waste, fraud, abuse and to increase transparency will help to ensure DHS is efficiently and effectively meeting its critical national security missions.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Carter introduced the DHS FOIA Efficiency Act of 2015 (HR 1615), which would require DHS’s Chief FOIA Officer to make certain improvements in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
“In what is supposed to be the most transparent administration in history, DHS has an abysmal record when it comes to FOIA requests,” Carter said in a statement, emphasizing that DHS “boasts the largest backlog of any federal agency and was given a D+ for its handling of [FOIA requests] by an independent watchdog. This bill will implement desperately needed reforms to improve the process, eliminate duplication and significantly reduce the backlog while increasing transparency and accountability to the public.”
Homeland Security Today previously reported that DHS had to contract outside legal counsel to wade through a backlog of FOIA requests that are more than half-a-decade old and have required lengthy legal proceedings. Many of the backlogged FOIA requests have to do with information pertaining to DHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, federal sources familiar with the matter said on background.
Last November, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued an audit report on DHS’s processing of FOIA requests which McCaul had requested. GAO reported finding DHS has an outstanding number of backlogged FOIA requests due to mismanagement and duplicative efforts between components of the department.
“It is not acceptable for DHS’s FOIA requests to go unanswered,” McCaul said at the time. “The American people deserve a transparent and efficient department where efforts are not duplicative and taxpayer dollars are effectively and efficiently used. I hope DHS takes immediate action to correct this unproductive process and provide the information requested by and for the American people.”
In 2011, DHS established a goal to reduce the backlog of FOIA requests by 15 percent. However, GAO found little progress had been made, and that at the end of fiscal year 2013, nearly half of all reported backlogged federal FOIA requests belonged to DHS.
GAO further determined DHS’s FOIA processing had been mismanaged. For example, GAO said, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) improperly closed 11,000 FOIA cases and in 2012 a manager found a stack of boxes with 12,000 FOIA requests CBP never processed.
GAO recommended DHS eliminate duplicative processing and direct components to implement recommended and required FOIA system capabilities.
Bill Tolson, senior product marketing manager for Recommind, stated in a March 5, 2013 Homeland Security Today report that, “The procedures established under FOIA and The Privacy Act are necessary to ensure that agencies like the Department of Homeland Security fully satisfy their responsibility to the public to disclose departmental information while simultaneously safeguarding individual privacy. However, responding to FOIA requests is often time-consuming and expensive.”
Tolson said FOIA response time couldbe reduced utilizing predictive coding.
The DHS IT Duplication Reduction Act of 2015 (HR 1626) introduced this week by Rep. Hurd would reduce duplication of information technology at DHS.
The legislation would require DHS’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) to reduce duplicative information technology (IT) systems at DHS as well as identifying all IT systems at the department; assessing the number of potentially to duplicative systems; and development of a strategy to reduce such duplication, including an assessment of potential cost savings or cost avoidance.
“Call me crazy,” Hurd said, “but it just doesn’t make sense to have one agency using multiple IT systems that do the same thing. That’s a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars. We have to change the ‘it’s not my money, so let’s spend it’ culture in government that leads to this kind of waste. Taxpayers should be able to trust that every tax dollar is being used carefully and thoughtfully on effective, efficient government that works for the people.”
The DHS Paid Administrative Leave Accountability Act of 2015 (HR 1633), introduced by Loudermilk, would require improvements to the tracking and reporting of DHS employees placed on administrative leave or any other type of paid non-duty status for personnel matters.
The bill would require certain improvements related to the tracking and reporting of DHS employees placed on administrative leave for personnel matters, to include internal tracking and reporting to the Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) of the department on the number of employees on administrative leave for 6 months or longer; and costs per component associated with administrative leave.
The bill also would require the CHCO to monitor the number of employees on administrative leave; determine any appropriate actions to be taken to resolve any personnel matter; and develop and implement a department-wide policy regarding administrative leave.
The bill also would direct the CHCO to report to Congress the number of employees on administrative leave for personnel matters for a period of 6 months or more and associated costs per quarter for the next three years.
"We must hold government agencies accountable and ensure the responsible use of taxpayer money,” Loudermilk said. “The Government Accountability Office reported in October 2014 that from fiscal years 2011 through 2013, DHS employees charged approximately 1.5 million paid administrative leave days, which amounts to over $380 million. Some of these DHS employees were on paid administrative leave for over two years while lingering investigations for their misconduct were underway. This abuse of taxpayer funds must stop, and this bill will help prevent DHS employees from taking money out of the pockets of hardworking taxpayers by establishing an accountability system and severely cutting down on waste, fraud, and abuse.”
Rep. McSally, chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, introduced the Border Security Technology Accountability Act of 2015 (HR 1634), which would strengthen accountability for DHS’s deployment of border security technology.
The bill would require DHS border security technology programs to implement an acquisition program baseline before moving to the next phase of the acquisition lifecycle; adherence to internal control standards identified by the Comptroller General of the United States; and development of a plan for testing and evaluation, as well as use of independent verification and validation resources for border security technology.
“When our border technology projects lack the proper oversight or accountability, it’s bad for taxpayers, those who defend our border, and those living along our border,” McSally said. “Southern Arizonans want to see Washington act to secure our border and they expect us to do it in a smart, cost-effective way. The Border Security Technology Accountability Act will provide improved management of border security technology projects, safeguarding taxpayer dollars and increasing accountability for some of the department’s largest acquisition purchases.”
HR 1637, the Federally Funded Research and Development Sunshine Act of 2015, was introduced Wednesday by Rep. Ratcliffe, chairman of the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee. The legislation would require annual reports on the activities and accomplishments of DHS’s federally funded research and development centers.
It would require the DHS secretary to annually submit to Congress a list of ongoing and completed projects that DHS Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) have been tasked to complete. It also would improve congressional oversight by requiring a report that details the size and scope of DHS FFRDC projects.
“A key role of Congress is to provide oversight,” and, “I have a duty to my constituents and the American people to be a budget watchdog and protect taxpayer dollars from fraud, waste and abuse,” Ratcliffe said.
Rep. Walker introduced HR 1640, the Department of Homeland Security Headquarters Consolidation Accountability Act of 2015, which would direct the DHS secretary to submit to Congress a report on DHS’s headquarters consolidation project at St. Elizabeth’s.
The report would be required to include a current list of components/offices to be included in the project; the current plan for construction of the consolidation project; estimates for costs and schedule for the project; and estimated cost savings of re-scoping the project.
The legislation also would require the US Comptroller General to review the updated cost and schedule estimates to evaluate quality and reliability.
Walker said, “As the national debt hurtles past $18 trillion, we must be vigilant in holding Washington accountable and scrutinize every penny it spends. The Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters consolidation project has been mismanaged, skyrocketing past its cost and completion estimates. This bill will fully codify the recommendations outlined by the Government Accountability Office and provide improved management of the project and increased transparency to the American people.”
Lastly, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015 (HR 719) introduced by Rep. Katko, chairman of the Transportation Security Subcommittee, which would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conform to existing federal law and regulations regarding criminal investigator positions was passed the House on February 10 in a 414-0 vote.
This bill would require TSA criminal investigators to spend at least 50 percent of their time investigating, apprehending or detaining individuals suspected of committing a crime. Currently, TSA does not necessitate that its criminal investigators meet this requirement, despite being considered law enforcement officers and receiving premium pay, Katko said.
“Threats to our nation’s transportation systems are constantly evolving, and it is critical that Congress act to preempt catastrophes at our nation’s airports by strengthening security protocols in the most cost-effective manner possible,” Katko said. “My subcommittee hearing earlier this year stemmed from security breaches in which loaded firearms were brought onto commercial airplanes by employees with airport access privileges. In light of that hearing, this bill provides a thoughtful response to create safer airports across our country by improving upon nationwide security protocols and facilitating commonsense TSA reform to save taxpayer dollars.”