House committee advances bill to create DHS insider threat program

The House Committee on Homeland Security favorably recommended more than a dozen bills aimed at strengthening national security and improving management and ove...

The House Committee on Homeland Security voted to establish an insider threat program in the Department of Homeland Security.

The committee approved the Department of Homeland Security Insider Threat and Mitigation Act of 2015 Sept. 30 as part  markup session addressing everything from cybersecurity strategy to a series of internal reform efforts.

The insider threat bill,  sponsored Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), would provide training, education and investigative support for protecting against internal enemies.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) voiced his concern that the bill not become “a back door for DHS to deploy continuous evaluation” on individuals, but declined to offer an amendment to the bill.

“I believe we have a responsibility to engage with DHS before granting its authority to deploy such a program,” Thompson said. “Without clarifying language [the bill] may be seen as authorizing DHS to move forward before this committee can set forth what our expectations are for such a system. For that reason … I reluctantly oppose [the bill].”

Related to the insider threat bill, the committee approved the DHS Security Clearance Management and Administration Act  with no amendments. Meanwhile, the DHS Cybersecurity Strategy Act of 2015 was the topic of conversation concerning civil liberties and national security.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who sponsored the bill, said the legislation could serve as a model for “cyber posture” for other agencies.

The act’s language did raise a red flag for a least one committee member. Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.) offered an amendment requiring DHS submit a cybersecurity plan to Congress, but ensure that “it directs that nothing in DHS’ cybersecurity plan be interpreted as allowing the department to engage in surveillance for the purpose of tracking an individual’s personal, identifiable information.

“I think we must be vigilant in protecting our citizens’ personal identifiable information, especially in today’s digital age,” Clawson said. “That said, we must always strike the right balance between civil liberties and keeping the country safe.”

In a breakdown provided by the committee, the 15 bills include the elimination of nine assistant secretary/director positions, the elimination of three offices and the elimination of 10 reports.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a statement that the bills “are a continuation of the committee’s work to address key department challenges. It is our responsibility to provide DHS with the direction to best focus on its core mission to protect the homeland and at the same time save taxpayers’ money and eliminate bureaucracy.”

Several committee members referenced the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the results of which were released earlier this week and showed the department’s employee engagement score continued a steady decline for the sixth consecutive year. It dropped 1 percentage point from 2014, and at 53 percent, DHS employees said they are the least engaged of any other large agency.

“I hope that our effort here today might turn this around,” McCaul said.

DHS headquarters reform and improvement

One bill that received favorable review along with a host of amendments was the DHS Headquarters Reform and Improvement Act of 2015.

The measure is sponsored by McCaul and amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002  “to reform, streamline, and make improvements to the Department of Homeland Security and support the Department’s efforts to implement better policy, planning, management, and performance, and for other purposes.”

Among the approved amendments was a directive offered by Thompson that the department Sscretary make an annual report on the instances where DHS moved money around to cover “the cost of operational surge activities,” such as boosting security at an airport or federal building. Thompson also added an amendment that directs the DHS chief procurement officer as the person in charge of department suspension and debarment activities.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) tacked on two amendments that require the DHS CFO to provide oversight on conference spending and to ensure that major acquisition programs of $300 million or more are tested and evaluated “to ensure the tools work before they’re sent out into the field.”

“It’s just amazing to me that we would actually buy this stuff without really having a clue about its efficiency,” Perry said.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) added an amendment establishing a deputy under secretary for policy, while Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) suggested an amendment to rejuvenate the DHS rotation program.

“I believe it can be an effective tool to not only help bring the department together in a cohesive and collaborative agency, but also address longstanding morale and retention challenges,” Watson Coleman said.

The 15 bills voted up by the committee are:

  • The Airport Access Control Security Improvement Act of 2015
  • The Partners for Aviation Security Act
  • The Know the CBRN Terrorism Threats to Transportation Act
  • Department of Homeland Security Insider Threat and Mitigation Act of 2015
  • Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act
  • Securing the Cities Act of 2015
  • Department of Homeland Security Support to Fusion Centers Act of 2015
  • Department of Homeland Security Clearance Management and Administration Act
  • Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity Strategy Act of 2015
  • DHS Headquarters Reform and Improvement Act of 2015
  • DHS Science and Technology Reform and Improvements Act of 2015
  • Promoting Resilience and Efficiency in Preparing for Attacks and Responding to Emergencies Act
  • Transportation Security Administration Reform and Improvement Act of 2015
  • Border and Maritime Coordination Improvement Act
  • Fusion Center Enhancement Act of 2015

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