Secretary Napolitano took to Capitol Hill today for a double-header of hearings defending the Department of Homeland Security’s FY2010 budget request of $55.1 billion ($42.7 billion in appropriated funding) . It was the first day in a two-day series of hearings before the 4 homeland authorizing and appropriations committees. On today’s schedule: the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee. Tomorrow, the Secretary will appear before the House Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.
The message at the two hearings today was rather straightforward: The Department will continue to take an all hazards approach to homeland security and there will be increased focus on collaborations with partners across the federal, state, local, Tribal, private sector, and intergovernmental spectrum. The Secretary identified the top five priority areas for the fledging agency.
First, Guarding Against Terrorism – the budget request demonstrated, she said, an increased interest in “detecting explosives in public spaces and transportation networks, helping protect critical infrastructure and cyber networks from attack, detecting agents of biological warfare, and building information-sharing partnerships with state and local law enforcement that can enable law enforcement to mitigate threats.”
Second, Securing the Border – Given the Secretary’s former career as a border state governor and her expressed interest in fighting the increased violence along the border, this priority is anything but a surprise.
Third, Enforcing immigration laws – If Comprehensive Immigration Reform ever becomes a plausible reality this year, the Secretary will be a key player with a seat at the table. Until that happens, however, the Secretary is keeping the Department focused on strengthening eligibility verification systems, cracking down on criminal aliens, and expediting legal immigrant applications.
Fourth, Improving responses and recovery for disasters – Whether Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will stay in or leave DHS is a heated issue that has garnered tremendous interest on the Hill and among experts. For now, it is in and Secretary Napolitano made it clear that DHS remains dedicated to ensuring a functioning and successful FEMA.
Fifth, Building One DHS. As an agency spread across town, with senior leadership relegated to the boondocks of D.C., the Secretary rightly promoted consolidation efforts, as well as the move to integrate much of the agency to St. Elizabeth’s campus.
During the question and answer period, Secretary Napolitano faced a grilling on immigration-related issues. In the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Chairman Price, for example, focused on the deportation of criminal aliens and building a stronger Immigrations an Customs Enforcement (ICE).
She also answered a number of questions on cybersecurity, which kept coming up and up again. The Secretary stressed the need for less stovepiping and more coordination. Expect cybersecurity’s importance to continue to grow, esp. after the White House issues its 60 day review of the nation’s cyber efforts. As noted in tomorrow’s Washington Post, the struggle to create a cyber czar, is being fought over by the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
Secretary Napolitano also took a grilling on TSA-related issues and the right-wing extremist report that caused a stir a few weeks ago.
Overall, the Secretary gets an A for her efforts today. The Department is coming of age and appears focused on its core missions under her. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Secretary Napolitano will remain at the Department to see through the budget implementation. She has been identified as a potential Supreme Court nominee.