Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 26, 2006

DHS drops collective bargaining case

Filed under: Legal Issues,Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on September 26, 2006

DHS has decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court regarding its ongoing legal dispute with federal government unions over collective bargaining rights at DHS, according to FCW:

Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman, said the decision came from the Justice Department’s Office of the Solicitor General late Sept. 25. The decision allows the agency to move forward to “pursue labor relations flexibilities rather than spending additional time in litigation,” Orluskie said.

“If we go to the Supreme Court, we’d go on and on and on,” he said. “What we’re going to do is engage with our other partners, with the components, OPM, sit down with the unions and consider all available options.”

MaxHR had been tied down in courts because of problems with ensuring collective bargaining rights for employees. The original court decision, in August 2005, blocked labor-relations portions of MaxHR and was eventually reaffirmed by an appeals court in June.

Unions applauded the decision and agreed with DHS on the need to move past the court battles.

“DHS has made the right decision — for itself, for its employees and for our nation,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. The union led the fight against MaxHR in court. “It is now time for DHS to put this adversarial proceeding behind it and to join with NTEU in focusing solely on the agency’s critical mission of protecting the American people.”

I’m glad that DHS is finally dropping this case. The negative mood that this created on human capital issues at DHS over the last three years vastly overwhelmed any performance-related benefits that this plan might have generated. There need to be strong incentives – both carrots and sticks – for high performance at DHS, but it’s been clear for the last two years that this plan was not the right way to pursue this objective.

Congress postpones WHTI deadlines

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 26, 2006

The House and Senate have agreed to postpone the deadlines for the implementation of the requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, in language included in the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill. AP notes:

plan to tighten U.S. borders by requiring passports or tamper-resistant identification cards from everyone entering the country has been delayed.

House and Senate lawmakers agreed to push back the program by 17 months, saying they want to make sure new ID cards being developed by the Bush administration will better secure borders against terrorists without slowing legitimate travelers from Canada and Mexico. The new ID’s will be required for Americans and all others entering the U.S.

That pushes the WHTI land border deadline back to the middle of 2009, which should give DHS and the State Department sufficient time to develop a workable solution for meeting the WHTI mandates. However, simply kicking the ball down the road doesn’t magically resolve the lingering disputes between DHS and State over technology, nor does it ensure that the business model for implementing WHTI without disrupting or deterring cross-border travel is sound. And this delay has its downsides: it leaves open critical gaps in the nation’s border security that were identified by the 9/11 Commission’s monograph on terrorist travel and which the WHTI elements of the Intelligence Reform Act were intended to address.

New CRS report on aviation pre-screening

Filed under: Aviation Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on September 26, 2006

The Congressional Research Service released a new report this month on aviation security pre-screening:

RL33645: Terrorist Watchlist Checks and Air Passenger Prescreening, September 6, 2006

The full Homeland Security Watch collection of CRS reports is available here.

TSA issues registered traveler standards

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christian Beckner on September 26, 2006

TSA has issued draft standards for the Registered Traveler program, a set of zipped files which you can download at this link. The standards are currently open for public comment until October 4, 2006.

September 25, 2006

DHS FY07 approps emerges from conference

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christian Beckner on September 25, 2006

The House Committee on Appropriations issued a press release tonight that contains the top-line details about the final agreement between the House and Senate conferees on FY 2007 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. When additional information emerges, I’ll provide a detailed analysis, building off of this chart that I published on the blog back in July.

New MPI report: “Immigration and America’s Future”

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on September 25, 2006

The Migration Policy Institute has released the report of a new task force report (which was co-chaired by former Sen. Spencer Abraham and former Rep. Lee Hamilton) on “Immigration and America’s Future.” The executive summary of the report is available on MPI’s website. The report contains recommendations on border security, counter-terrorism and employer enforcement within its broader scope. I don’t see any bold new ideas in this part of the executive summary, but the report provides a relieving dose of nonpartisan analysis on these contentious issues.

NY Times editorial on chemical security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on September 25, 2006

From the New York Times editorial page today, a resolute critique of the current legislative endgame on chemical security:

Congress still has done nothing to protect Americans from a terrorist attack on chemical plants. Republican leaders want to give the impression that that has changed. But voters should not fall for the spin. If the leadership goes through with the strategy it seems to have adopted last week to secure these highly vulnerable targets, national security will be the loser.

The federal government is spending extraordinary amounts of money and time protecting air travel from terrorist attacks. But Congress has not yet passed a law to secure the nation’s chemical plants, even though an attack on just one plant could kill or injure as many as 100,000 people. The sticking point has been the chemical industry, a heavy contributor to political campaigns, which does not want to pay the cost of reasonable safety measures.

The Senate and the House spent many months carefully developing bipartisan chemical plant security bills. Both measures were far too weak, but they would have finally imposed real safety requirements on the chemical industry. The Republican leadership in Congress blocked both bills from moving forward. Instead, whatever gets done about chemical plant security will apparently be decided behind closed doors, and inserted as a rider to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill.

It is outrageous that something as important as chemical plant security is being decided in a back-room deal. It is regrettable that Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, the chairwoman of the committee that produced the Senate bill, does not carry enough influence with her own party’s leadership to get a strong chemical plant security bill passed. The deal itself, the likely details of which have emerged in recent days, is a near-complete cave-in to industry, and yet more proof that when it comes to a choice between homeland security and the desires of corporate America, the Republican leadership always goes with big business.

I disagree with the point that the Senate HSGAC and House HSC were too weak – I thought that they were within the target zone – but other than, that is fair critique of what we’ve seen emerge over the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, Reuters provides additional details on the Republican-led deal on this issue in a story tonight, noting that there has been moderate pushback on some of the worst provisions of the industry language (e.g. giving DHS the authority to shutdown plants) – but is still quite weak, essentially codifying the dangerous laissez faire attitude that has prevailed since 9/11 on chemical plant security.

DHS allocates FY06 port & transit security grants

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Ground Transport Security,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on September 25, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security announced its FY 2006 allocations for the port, transit, and intercity bus homeland security grant programs, as detailed in this document. Looking at the allocations, it’s possible to detect a handful of trends:

  • Ports with extensive petrochemical assets, primarily along the Gulf Coast, made out very well in the allocations. The eight ports in Texas and Louisiana received funding totaling $57.7 million – approx. 1/3rd of the total allocation.
  • New York’s funding increased sharply, from $6.6 million in FY 2005 to $25.7 million in FY 2006 – not surprising given the fallout from the general grant allocations in June.
  • Ports in California made out poorly in the allocations. LA/Long Beach’s funding was halved from $24 million to $12 million, and other major ports – Oakland, San Diego – received little or no funding (a fact not lost on the Contra Costa Times).
  • Chicago, somewhat surprisingly, received a large allocation of $11.5 million, after have received less than $2 million in all previous rounds of port security grants combined.

A likely general explanation for these decisions, I would expect, is that certain ports (e.g. LA / Long Beach) have already made extensive investments in security, and DHS is spreading funds to a second tier of ports who have not received funding in previous rounds and are insufficiently protected by comparison and have higher “need” scores.

TSA changes aviation carry-on rules

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christian Beckner on September 25, 2006

DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson and TSA Administrator Kip Hawley announced changes to the aviation screening rules imposed after the August 10th plot:

  • Small bottles (less than 3 oz.) of toiletries, cosmetics, toothpaste, etc. will now be allowed through the passenger checkpoint, screened separately in a clear Ziploc bag.
  • Drinks purchased inside the passenger checkpoint will now be allowed on planes.

The full details are available on TSA’s website.

September 22, 2006

Real ID cost: $11 billion over 5 years

Filed under: State and Local HLS,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 22, 2006

The National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators released a report yesterday that estimated the five-year cost associated with implementing the REAL ID Act at $11 billion over five years. This estimate is broken down as follows:

  • Re-enrollment of all drivers license & ID holders to meet guidelines: $8.48 billion
  • New processes for verifying applicants: $1.42 billion
  • Drivers license and ID design requirements: $1.11 billion
  • Support costs: $0.04 billion

This analysis goes a couple of levels deeper in the report, providing a fairly rigorous assessment of the costs of REAL ID. And the report offers nine top-level recommendations:

  1. Extend the compliance deadline;
  2. Provide the funds necessary for states to comply with Real ID;
  3. Provide the federal electronic verification systems necessary to comply with the law;
  4. Require states to employ electronic verification systems only as they become available;
  5. Implement a 10 year re-enrollment schedule;
  6. Adopt uniform naming conventions to facilitate electronic verification between files;
  7. Allow reciprocity for persons already vetted by the federal government
  8. Establish card security criteria based on performance—not technology; and
  9. Grant the Secretary of Homeland Security the flexibility to recognize innovation at the state level.

I’ve written in the past that REAL ID is a bad idea, arguing that:

If Real ID is a “de facto” national ID system, then it’s one of the worst possible forms of one: it’s not likely to deliver the potential security benefits of an integrated system; it doesn’t save money via national-level economies of scale; it has no clear funding stream; and oversight on privacy issues will be difficult in a 50-state stakeholder environment.

This report supports my contention about the lack of national-level economies of scale in the REAL ID model compared with a national ID card.

TSA to reprogram aviation screening funds

Filed under: Aviation Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 22, 2006

The Washington Post has a story today that discusses plans within DHS to reallocate screening and explosive detection funds away from the “puffer” machines and toward technology that can better detect liquid explosives:

The proposal calls for a shift of $20 million from the puffers to fund improvements in X-ray technology. After the upgrades, the X-ray machines would be able to take multiple images of the contents of carry-on bags, giving screeners an extra chance to detect suspicious items, including bottles or containers that might hold explosives, officials and experts said.

Machines used in U.S. airports today generally examine bags from only one angle. Government audits have shown that it is sometimes difficult for screeners to detect banned items or weapons, depending on where they are placed in a carry-on.

Security officials are seeking new technology to counter the threat of liquid explosives, a month after British authorities said they uncovered a plot to blow up transatlantic flights. The upgraded machines would not identify explosive compounds but would help screeners pick up shapes of items that could contain liquid explosives, officials said.

“What gives me the capability to find explosives now?” Kip Hawley, head of the Transportation Security Administration, asked in an interview. “The answer is X-rays. We’re looking at where we can get the biggest bang for the buck.”

The article also indicates that the puffer machines are not living up to expectations, and have had high maintenance costs and failure rates in the aviation environment – thus the rationale for the potential shift of funds.

Peter King disavows industry’s chemical security language

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on September 22, 2006

In a story in CQ (subscription only), Rep. Peter King, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, makes its very clear that he does not support the language that the chemical industry is pushing to include in the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill:

King said Thursday he does not endorse compromise language that has been circulating for more than a week under his name, and chastised those who claim he did.

“Anyone saying I agreed to this is either a liar, ignorant, or both,” King told CQ Homeland Security. “My experience is that people who spread these lies are usually people who’ve lost big time.”

The language, to be added to the Homeland Security spending bill (HR 5441), would allow the Department of Homeland Security to create interim regulations for chemical security sites.

King said he never backed the language, which was being characterized with his moniker, along with Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The office of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has taken over the negotiations for King, sources said.

“I never signed onto any compromise,” King said Thursday. “The industry was trying to get out front and box people in.”

This last sentence by King says it all about the chemical industry’s narrow-minded viewpoint on this issue. I hope that members of Congress such as Peter King, Susan Collins, and Judd Gregg continue to fight against the inclusion of such weak language in the appropriations bill.

HLS in DC, Sept. 25-29, 2006

Filed under: Events — by Christian Beckner on September 22, 2006

Below is a list of homeland security policy events in the DC area next week (as well as the occasional listing outside of DC). Please note that many events require prior invitations and/or RSVPs.

9/25-9/26: Border Trade Alliance 2006 International Conference. Austin, TX.
9/25-9/26: University of Rhode Island conference on “National Security, Natural Disasters, Logistics & Transportation: Assessing the Risks & the Responses.” Kingston, RI.
9/25-9/26: ANSI Homeland Security Standards Panel Plenary Meeting to Address Emergency Preparedness. New York University, NYC.
9/25-9/27: IT Security World Conference & Expo. Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, CA.
9/25-9/28: ASIS International 2006. San Diego, CA.
9/25: National Press Club luncheon with Sen. Arlen Specter. 529 14th St NW, 12:30pm.
9/25: House-Senate Conference Committee meeting for Homeland Security Appropriations. U.S. Capitol H-140, 5pm.
9/25: Center for American Progress film screening of “Crossing Arizona.” Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St NW, 6:30pm.
9/26: House Homeland Security Committee hearing with Sec. Chertoff on “DHS: Major Initiatives for 2007.” Cannon 311, 10am.
9/26: Opening ceremony for DC’s new Unified Communications Center. 2720 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, 12:30pm.
9/26: House Government Reform Committee hearing on “Current Nuclear Proliferation Challenges” with Hans Blix et al. Rayburn 2154, 2pm.
9/27: House Financial Services Committee hearing on “Protecting Americans from Catastrophic Terrorism Risk.” Rayburn 2128, 10am.
9/27: Heritage Foundation and Center for National Policy event on “Honoring Excellence in Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Education and Research.” 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, 11am.
9/27: George Mason U. Critical Infrastructure Protection Program event on “National Preparedness Month and the Future of Critical Infrastructure” with DHS Under Sec. George Foresman. National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, 11am.
9/27: House Small Business Committee hearing on “Advancing Security and Commerce at Our Nation’s Ports: The Goals are not Mutually Exclusive.” Rayburn 2360, 2pm.
9/27: Senate HELP Committee hearing on “Crisis in the ER: How Can We Improve Emergency Medical Care?” Dirksen 430, 2:30pm.
9/28-9/29: Descartes Conference on Mathematical Models in Counterterrorism. Rayburn 2168.
9/28: Senate HSGAC hearing on “Securing the National Capital Region (NCR): An Examination of the NCR’s Strategic Plan.” Dirksen 342, 10am.
9/28: House Homeland Security Committee hearing on “Transit Security Training Procedures.” Cannon 311, 10am.

(Please e-mail me if you have suggestions about additions to this list for this week, or future weeks).

OMB lists high-risk DHS IT investments

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on September 22, 2006

The Office of Management & Budget released a document recently that lists high-risk IT investments in the federal government, a list which includes many DHS programs:

  • Customs and Border Protection SBInet (Secure Border Intitiative)
  • eMerge2
  • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) National Emergency Management Information System (eNEMIS)
  • O&A Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN)
  • PREP Information Systems Security Line of Business (ISS LoB)
  • PREP National Asset Data Base (NADB)
  • PREP NS/EP Priority Telecommunications Service (PTS)
  • Science & Technology Directorate Disaster Management E-Gov
  • Science & Technology Directorate SAFECOM
  • Office of Screening Coordination and Operations US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology)
  • Transportation Security Administration Alien Flight Student Program
  • Transportation Security Administration Hazmat Threat Assessment Program
  • Transportation Security Administration Registered Traveler (RT)
  • Transportation Security Administration Secure Flight/Crew Vetting
  • Transportation Security Administration Transportation Worker Identification Credentialing (TWIC)
  • United States Coast Guard Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS)

For more context, see this GCN story.

September 21, 2006

Updated CRS report on Coast Guard operations

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on September 21, 2006

The Congressional Research Service recently published an updated version of a report that looks at pending Congressional issues related to the Coast Guard:

RS21125: Homeland Security: Coast Guard Operations -Background and Issues for Congress, Updated September 12, 2006

The full Homeland Security Watch collection of CRS reports is available here.

GAO report on rad/nuke response issues

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christian Beckner on September 21, 2006

The GAO issued a report today entitled “Federal Efforts to Respond to Nuclear and Radiological Threats and to Protect Emergency Response Capabilities Could Be Strengthened,” which takes a look at a couple of issues related to the nation’s abilities to respond to a catastrophic radiological or nuclear attack.

The report makes two key points: first, that DOE’s two key emergency response facilities, at Andrews and Nellis AFB, have inadequate physical security; and second, that DOE should conduct additional aerial surveys of major cities to establish a baseline for background radiation and potentially locate existing unknown radiation sources – as was the case when New York City conducted an aerial survey in 2005 and found an old industrial site that was previously unknown to be contaminated with radium.

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