Lawmakers advance DHS bills to ban Chinese batteries, help TSAers with commute

The homeland security committee passed a flurry of DHS bills, including several with implications for TSA operations and employees.

The House Homeland Security Committee advanced a raft of new legislation today, including a bill aimed at cutting major Chinese battery manufacturers out of the Department of Homeland Security’s supply chain.

The committee today voted to approve a bill from Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fl.), “Decoupling from Foreign Adversarial Battery Dependence Act.” The bill would block DHS from procuring batteries from six Chinese companies over concerns about human rights abuses, as well as supply chain and cybersecurity concerns.

Under the legislation, the ban would begin on Oct. 1, 2027.

During today’s markup, Gimenez said he had engaged with DHS in developing the legislation over the past two months. “The committee incorporated nearly all of DHS’s inputs,” he said.

Gimenez also said he was expecting a report from DHS within the coming months describing the potential impacts of the proposed ban.

Under the bill, DHS would be able to waive the prohibition if it determines the battery purchases don’t pose a national security risk. DHS would also be able to issue a waiver if there are no viable alternatives.

The latest push targeting major Chinese battery manufacturers comes after the fiscal 2024 defense authorization act included a corresponding ban on the Defense Department buying batteries from the same six companies. The DoD ban will also go into effect on Oct. 1, 2027.

That law, however, gives the Pentagon the ability to waive the limitation for any reason.

TSA commuting legislation

The homeland security committee today also unanimously passed legislation that would explore better compensating Transportation Security Committee employees for the time they spend commuting to the job.

The “TSA Commuting Fairness Act,” introduced by Rep. Tim Kennedy (D-N.Y.), would require TSA to conduct a feasibility study on allowing employees to clock in for work when they arrive at airport parking lots or bus and transit stops. The study would evaluate whether such a program could rely on location data from employees’ phones.

“Doing so would reduce commuting costs and improve quality of life for employees while allowing TSA leadership to manage the workforce appropriately and maintain order and discipline,” Kennedy said during today’s mark-up.

Kennedy referenced how TSA employees typically have to navigate a lengthy secondary commute between airport parking lots and their assigned airport checkpoints. Many have to wait for bus or light rail connections, or they have to walk to the from the lot to the airport. “And if these hardworking Americans are just a few minutes late to clock in, they can face discipline and punishment,” he added.

“This study will help both TSA and Congress gain insight into ways to address these challenges and the potential costs and benefits of pursuing an innovative program along these lines,” Kennedy said.

Digital identity report

The committee also unanimously approved a bill introduced by Rep. Clay Higgins that would require TSA to submit a report on the current state of “digital identity” ecosystems, as well as the value of digital IDs in the transportation sector.

Higgins said he supports TSA’s digital ID initiatives. “It’s also important that we understand the full extent of the risks and benefits of utilizing this technology to advance the agency’s homeland security mission,” he added.

“Using a digital ID is not only more convenient, but also better for ensuring privacy protection as opposed to using conventional physical IDs,” Higgins said. “Digital IDs do not need to be handled by a [transportation security officer].”

TSA has started accepting digital IDs, such as mobile drivers licenses that are stored in a mobile phone’s electronic wallet, at some airport checkpoints. The agency this week announced it would begin accepting New York state-issued mobile drivers licenses at select airports. The announcement brings TSA’s digital ID initiative to nine states and 28 airports so far.

TSA’s work has represented a primary pathfinder in the federal government’s acceptance of digital IDs. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is considering including mobile drivers licenses and other digital credentials in its revised digital identity guidelines.

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