Yesterday, for the first time since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee passed a homeland security authorization bill, S. 1546 (Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2011).
The bill, which the Committee considered over two weeks, was limited in its reach, mostly due to the jurisdictional limits of the Committee. The Committee focused only on those issues that would not trigger referrals to other Committees.
Much of the bill focused on making the Department a more efficient, whether it be in its acquisition practices or in its structure. There were also a number of amendments that tackled -on both sides – the debate over radicalization and civil liberties issues. More than 70 amendments were offered, many of which were agreed upon outside the Executive Meeting as part of a revised manager’s amendment.
Among the highlights:
- The requirement of the development of a long-term strategic human capital plan to build out DHS’ acquisition workforce.
- The implementation of “open architecture approach to acquisitions.” Specifically, this is intended to cover “the employment of business and technical practices that yield modular, interoperable systems that adhere to standards with open interfaces, with a goal of encouraging competitive proposals from multiple qualified sources and rapid incorporation of innovative technologies into systems.”
- Elevating the Assistant Secretary of Policy to an Undersecretary position, an elevation that should have been made long ago given the responsibilities of that office.
- Improving the Department’s efforts generally on preparedness, response and recovery.
- The creation of an Office of International Travel Security & Screening, which would combine the efforts of US-VISIT, the Screening Coordination Office (currently residing in policy), and the visa waiver program.
The passage of this bill is significant, especially as the House is working to take up its version of a homeland security authorization bill in the coming month or so. We could very well see this Congress the first Homeland Security Authorization bill since the agency’s creation go to the President’s desk, which is ironic given that Congress is as a whole at a standstill and partisanship is standard course in D.C. these days. Maybe it is because of the 9/11 anniversary or that truly is the case that homeland security is not a partisan issue — we’ll find out over the coming months.