The House of Representatives on Monday passed four homeland security bills to protect the United States against the wide array of ever-evolving threats facing the homeland today. The bills include measures to curb foreign fighter and terrorist travel to the United States, enhance airport security, and improve internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) practices and procedures.
“We face an unprecedented pace of terror worldwide,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “To fully understandand defend against the growing threat, the United States must learn from our past actions, defend against current plots, and actively protect potential future vulnerabilities.”
McCaul continued, “The bills passed by the House today do just that. These bills bolster security at airport entry points, preemptively defend against evildoers attempting to travel to our homeland, and improve DHS’s internal operations to constantly find ways to improve safety and efficiency.”
HR 4404, the Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), requires DHS to conduct an exercise to evaluate the nation’s preparedness against all phases of foreign fighter and terrorist planning and travel to the United States.
The last major government exercise on terrorist travel was conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2009 and focused primarily on terrorists attempting to infiltrate the United States rather than on Americans leaving the country to train overseas with terrorist groups as foreign fighters.
The bill is the result of the Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel, which investigated the threat pose by ISIS. The report includes 32 findings and 50 recommendations.
“In our findings, the Task Force found that the growing complexity and changing nature of the foreign fighter phenomenon may be creating unseen gaps in our defenses, yet it has been years since any large-scale stress test has been conducted,” said Rep. McSally. “Carrying out such a test would be beneficial in understanding how partners at all levels of government, and abroad, are currently responding to these scenarios.”
HR 4785, the DHS Stop Asset and Vehicle Excess Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), seeks to improve management of DHS’s vehicle fleet. The bill directs the Under Secretary for Management to, among other things, provide Departmental components with a standardized vehicle allocation methodology.
Rep. Perry introduced the bill in response to several DHS Office of the Inspector General (IG) reports, including a 2015 report revealing that the vehicle fleet of the Federal Protective Service (FPS) has not been managed effectively, potentially costing DHS $2.5 million in FY 2014.
As Homeland Security Today previous reported, FPS’s fleet consists of 1,059 SUVS — 93 percent of its total fleet—even though the National Protection and Programs Directorate Fleet Manual states that midsize sedan is the preferred vehicle, and an SUV only an exception.
A law enforcement SUV costs on average $1200 more annually than a sedan. Consequently, if sedans had been used instead of SUVs, FPS could have saved more than $1.1 million annually, according to the report.
“To ensure it has the optimal fleet necessary to meet its mission, FPS needs to develop and use a sound methodology instead of making ad hoc, undocumented decisions,” IG auditors concluded. “Without better oversight and accurate data, FPS cannot ensure it is effectively managing its fleet, and it is also missingopportunities to identify cost savings.”
HR 5385, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) Technical Correction Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) revises the requirements of the QHSR in an effort to improve the quality and timeliness of the review that DHS carries out.
This entails including more stakeholder engagement, conducting a regular risk assessment, and maintaining all documents regarding the Quadrennial Review.
In April 2016, GAO released its review of DHS’s second QHSR, which was issued in 2014, and reported that, despite some progress in addressing weaknesses in the first review, there were several areas for improvement for future reviews.
The bill would make mostly technical changes to the current requirements for that quadrennial review implementing various GAO recommendations.
HR 5056, the Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. William Keating (D-MA), requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to update airport security risk assessments, specifically along airport perimeters and points of access to secure areas.
As Homeland Security Today reported earlier this year, weaknesses in TSA’s oversight of airport perimeter security and access controls may be putting the nation’s civil aviation system at grave risk, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
“The intense scrutiny placed at checkpoints in airports, but not on the perimeter, is the equivalent of locking your home’s doors while leaving your windows wide open. The GAO found that in many instances, the windows are open at our airports,” said Rep. Keating.