Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 21, 2015

Trying to follow the money

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on December 21, 2015

Friday an omnibus appropriations bill funding the federal government through the end of September 2016 was signed by the President.  It is 2009 pages long.  I have not mastered it.  I welcome your corrections or additions to what is below

Following are a few homeland security related bits (drawn largely from the Senate Appropriations Committee minority summary and the Committee’s DHS summary.  The following is not complete.

$11.057 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is responsible for securing our borders as well as regulating and facilitating international trade and immigration.  At this funding level, CBP will have the resources to hire and maintain 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 23,775 CBP Officers. (DHS)

$10.922 billion for the Coast Guard including $160 million for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).  When OCO is excluded, the total amount is $933 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $1.007 billion more than the request.  (DHS)

$4 .86 billion for the TSA. (DHS)

$5.832 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Within this total is $1.9 billion to support investigations in high-priority mission areas, including human trafficking and smuggling, child exploitation, commercial fraud and intellectual property rights enforcement, gangs, cybercrimes and terrorism. (DHS)

$1.63 billion for the National Protection and Programs Division including Infrastructure Protection, Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis, Federal Protective Service, and Biometric Identity Management. (DHS)

$1.5 billion, the same as fiscal year 2015 and $289 million more than the request, in funding to equip and train first responders and state, tribal and local officials for homeland security protection and response. (DHS)

Firefighter grants for equipment and staffing are funded at $690 million which is $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level and $20 million more than the request. (DHS)

$350 million is for the Emergency Management Performance Grants to ensure emergency management personnel and capacity is sustained nationwide. (DHS)

$100 million for the Predisaster Mitigation Program, quadrupling these funds from $25 million in fiscal year 2015, and $190 million for flood hazard mapping and risk analysis, almost doubling the program from $100 million last year. (DHS)

$7.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. (DHS)

(Editorial note: We are willing to pay much more to clean up and try to repair Humpty Dumpty than to strengthen his shell, pad his falls, or stop him from sitting on walls.)

$50 million in new funding for the Secretary of Homeland Security to distribute as needed to state and local governments, universities, and non-profit organizations, to prepare for emergent threats from violent extremism and complex, coordinated terrorist attacks.  The bill also provides $3.1 million for the new Office of Community Partnerships, which will focus on countering violent extremism. (DHS)

$314 million in Department of Energy cybersecurity work, which is $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level, for cybersecurity activities. (DOE)

$21.3 million for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to help ensure that federal laws and policies related to terrorism appropriately consider privacy and civil liberties.

$3.7 billion appropriated to Department of Justice, FBI, ATF and related agencies to help prevent radicalization in our communities and support our first responders and federal agents ensuring that if terror strikes, measures are in place to protect and save lives.  One of the biggest agencies in our fight to prevent terrorism within the CJS bill is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The FBI’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations are funded at $3.4 billion to uncover, investigate and disrupt current and future threats to our national security.  The National Security Division (NSD), housed in the Justice Department, is funded at $95 million to coordinate efforts between federal prosecutors, law enforcement and the Intelligence Community to combat terrorism.  Other Justice Department agencies are funded as follows: the U.S. Attorneys Office at $51 million to prosecute terrorism cases; the Bureau of Prisons at $18 million to stop extremism and radicalization in federal prisons; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at $98 million to fight terrorism with a drug trafficking nexus; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) at $15 million to disrupt and prevent the use of firearms and explosives in terrorist acts; and U.S. Marshals Service at $13 million to handle threat investigations.  The National Institute of Justice is provided $4 million to provide community leaders with evidence-based practices for bolstering resilience and developing responses to prevent and mitigate threats posed by violent extremists. (DOJ)

$7.228 billion for the Centers for Disease Control, $278 million more than last year. (HHS)

$175 million for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to support the Department of State efforts to strengthen the capacity of foreign law enforcement, and to facilitate a more integrated interagency effort to analyze threats and identify priorities for counterterrorism activities. (STATE)

$750 million to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children coming from Central America to the U.S.  The funds will be used to implement a U.S. strategy focused on border security and the reintegration of migrants as well as to address the causes of the migration, including programs to improve education and employment, support families, counter gangs and professionalize police forces in Central America.  Seventy-five percent of the funds for the central governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is subject to certification that they have met certain requirements related to governance, corruption and human rights. (STATE) (Note: $695 million is provided within CBP and ICE to house, process and transport up to 58,000 unaccompanied children and families with children.)

$300 million in disaster relief to help rebuild communities devastated by floods in 2015.  This level of funding is expected to assist approximately 4,000 households composed of homeowners with flood damage and no flood insurance, and very low- to extremely low-income renters with flood damage.  This funding can also assist with rebuilding small businesses and more resilient infrastructure in impacted communities. (HUD)

The Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations Act, 2016 provides $572.8 billion in base and Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding, compared to $554.1 billion enacted in fiscal year 2015 and $577.9 billion in the President’s budget request.  The base budget appropriation is $514.1 billion with $58.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations of the Department of Defense, compared to $63.9 billion for DoD OCO enacted in fiscal year 2015. (DOD)

Intelligence agencies are separately funded.  According to the Director of National Intelligence the FY2016 budget for non-military intelligence operations is $53.9 billion. (DNI, 16 differentmilitary and non-military intelligence agencies)

The comparative proportions are informative, don’t you think?

November 24, 2015

GAO: BioWatch is unreliable

Filed under: Biosecurity,Budgets and Spending,DHS News,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2015

According to the Government Accountability Office (complete report, 101 pages, available):

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system. DHS commissioned several tests of the technical performance characteristics of the current BioWatch Gen-2 system, but has not developed performance requirements that would enable it to interpret the test results and draw conclusions about the system’s ability to detect attacks. Although DHS officials said that the system can detect catastrophic attacks, which they define as attacks large enough to cause 10,000 casualties, they have not specified the performance requirements necessary to reliably meet this operational objective. In the absence of performance requirements, DHS officials said computer modeling and simulation studies support their assertion. However, none of these studies were designed to incorporate test results from the Gen-2 system and comprehensively assess the system against the stated operational objective. Additionally, DHS has not prepared an analysis that combines the modeling and simulation studies with the specific Gen-2 test results to assess the system’s capabilities to detect attacks. Finally, we found limitations and uncertainties in the four key tests of the Gen-2 system’s performance. Because it is not possible to test the BioWatch system directly by releasing live biothreat agents into the air in operational environments, DHS relied on chamber testing and the use of simulated biothreat agents, which limit the applicability of the results. These limitations underscore the need for a full accounting of statistical and other uncertainties, without which decision makers lack a full understanding of the Gen-2 system’s capability to detect attacks of defined types and sizes and cannot make informed decisions about the value of proposed upgrades.

March 5, 2015

Homeland security: reason versus truth

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 5, 2015

I don’t know anyone who was shocked when DHS funding was further delayed by contention between the House and Senate. This blog anticipated as much on January 29, and might have done so much earlier.

There was some surprise in the Department, at the White House, and on the Hill when last Friday’s first vote failed.  There had been an assumption our recently re-elected Speaker (or at least his Chief Whip) would be able to accurately discern the disposition of his conference.  Apparently not.

The most surprise I have heard has been reserved for Tuesday’s bipartisan comparatively low-drama resolution of funding for the remaining seven months of this fiscal year.  And for anyone who was once nerdy enough to have their own dog-eared copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, our surprise is enhanced by a certain delight in hearing how Rule XXII played such an important part (see page 36).

As I try to think this through on Wednesday morning, there has not yet been time for most of the consequences to play out.  But — so often an optimist — I am ready to declare Tuesday to be a triumph of reason.

In offering this observation I am also attempting a broader claim regarding the nature and role of reason in homeland security.

On my Grandpa Palin’s back porch just above his favorite chair there was a needlepoint reading: “Come now, and let us reason together.”  This is a partial verse from the first chapter of the prophecy according to Isaiah.

As with any literature worth the name this chapter can be read in many different ways. But one rather literal reading is as an invitation by God to a profoundly sinful and therefore broken people to enter into relationship… into conversation… into shared consideration.

The original Hebrew translated as reason is transliterated as yakach.  Depending on context this can be translated as argue, convince, judge, decide, and more.  It is derived from an ancient root meaning to be in front, in a clearing, in the sunshine, face-to-face.  Whatever else, there is a suggestion of achieving perceptive clarity.

In the first chapter of Isaiah this clarity is achieved by community and involves seeking justice, relieving  the oppressed, considering the fatherless,  and caring for the widow (verse 17). Evidently such activities undertaken together are clarifying.

Before this becomes even more a homily, for your consideration: Clarity is different than certainty.  Community consensus is different than individual insight.  These distinctions are crucial to the effective exercise of pre-Cartesian reason.

And, I suggest, we suffer from an excess of post-Cartesian reason.  Several weeks ago I happened to read: “In November 1628 Descartes was in Paris, where he made himself famous in a confrontation with Chandoux. Chandoux claimed that science could only be based on probabilities…. Descartes attacked this view, claiming that  only certainty could serve as a basis for knowledge, and that he himself had a method for attaining such certainty.”

I perceive this over-simplifies Descartes, but well-summarizes his cultural impact.  It is — back to homiletic — the modern era’s most profound and treacherous sin: The belief that certainty is possible — in some cases, necessary — engenders fruitless delay, pernicious pride, over-confidence, unnecessary conflict, manifest complications, perpetual frustrations.

This is especially the case whenever the problem involved is innately uncertain: as is the case with much of homeland security.

What pre-Cartesian reason encourages is clarity of decision and action that does not — because it cannot — depend on certainty.  This is reason that arises from shared humility, ongoing conversation, vigorous argument, careful listening and a commitment to advancing a vision of the Good that is as tentative as it is tangible.

On Tuesday those most certain of right and wrong lost the vote in the House.  It was, I hope, a clarifying experience… potentially for all of us.

March 3, 2015

DHS budget theater: still not very funny.

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on March 3, 2015

As you can see from the random selection of cartoons below, even otherwise reliable political cartoonists can’t come up with anything amusing, insightful, ironic or even nasty about the continuing congressional stage play over homeland security funding.

It’s as if – like congress – cartoonists are just going through the motions.  There’s no creativity, innovation, or leadership.  They seem to simply be waiting for the next deadline to turn something in.

Just like the cartoonists.

Judge for yourself.

Dhs 10 2015 03 01 22 27 25

Dhs 9 2015 03 01 21 44 53

DHS 8 2015 03 01 21 43 50

Dhs 7 2015 03 01 21 42 38

Dhs 6 2015 03 01 21 39 14

Dhs 5

Dhs 12 2015 03 01 22 39 51

Dhs 11 2015 03 01 22 38 50

Dhs 2 2015 03 01 21 34 09

Dhs 3 2015 03 01 21 35 16

Homeland security 1 2015 03 01 21 31 26

Dhs 14 2015 03 01 22 42 15

Dhs 13 2015 03 01 22 41 07

Dhs 4 2015 03 01 21 37 46

Yep. See you next week. Right after the second act.

February 28, 2015

DHS: Another seven days

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 28, 2015

According to The Hill:

A partial government shutdown was narrowly avoided late Friday evening as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a surprise move to back legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for one week.

Pelosi’s support helped Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) move the one-week bill through the House in a 357-60 vote just after 10 p.m., with 55 Republicans and 5 Democrats voting against it. The Senate passed the one-week funding bill in a voice vote.

President Obama signed the bill just before midnight.

On Thursday Secretary Johnson gathered various federal, state, and local participants in homeland security to highlight the impact of a closure or continued delay in adopting more than a stop-gap Continuing Resolution.  See details at DHS website.

Friday the Secretary released a 46-page Contingency Plan providing some specifics on how a hiatus in funding would impact each DHS agency and function.


There are 247 Republicans in the current House of Representatives.  As recent votes demonstrate just about fifty are much more “Know-Nothings” than Reagan Republicans.  Lincoln specifically fought the influence of the original Know-Nothings during the founding of the Republican Party.

The Know-Nothing movement of the 19th Century was a mostly non-urban, middle-class, nativist reaction to dramatic social and economic transformation that happened to coincide with a rapid influx of Irish and German Catholics.  The strong anti-immigrant stance of the movement can be seen as projecting on specific “others” the blame for a great deal of threatening “otherness.”

In the current context, the power of this nativist — and nostalgic — minority is amplified by what I call the Cantor Effect and the structure of most party primaries.

The surprise defeat of Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader, in his 2014 primary has been credited (accurately or not) to the power of this highly motivated and well-organized rump of the Republican Party.  They will show up and vote when other Republicans have not. Most estimates with which I am familiar suggest roughly 25-to-35 percent of self-identified Republicans perceive border security and immigration as top priorities.  But in many congressional districts nearly two-thirds of actual primary voters consider these and related issues top priorities.

These latter-day Know-Nothings are not just willing to hold DHS hostage to achieve their rather specific objectives.  They are holding-hostage the entire Republican Party, threatening Cantor-like outcomes in primaries across the nation unless their colleagues accommodate their priorities.

Hostage-taking is a reasonable choice for a minority attempting to punch-above its actual weight.  Responding to such a tactic is always treacherous.

February 27, 2015

DHS Appropriation Update

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on February 27, 2015


According to The Hill:

A short-term funding measure to keep the Department of Homeland Security open (DHS) was defeated in the House on Friday in a stunning vote that could result in a partial government shutdown at midnight.

The bill failed 203-224, with 52 Republicans voting against legislation that was set to fund the DHS and its associated agencies through March 19. Twelve Democrats voted for it…

The next steps on the funding bill are not clear, with a shutdown of the agency just hours away.


According to The Hill, as of 9 PM EST on Thursday:

The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency.

If the bill is approved by the House, the Senate is expected to quickly follow suit — though the upper chamber also plans to move forward with a bill funding Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber.

“I think we’ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it’ll be a very strong vote,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting.


February 24, 2015

The murmuration of DHS budget theater

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on February 24, 2015

Escher day and night


Some people hyperbolize if DHS is not funded by Friday, ISIS starts adding American cities to its Islamic State.  Other people argue when the funds run out not much that’s different will happen. Most DHS employees will show up for work at airports, borders, and other venues, and they’ll do it without a guarantee they’ll be paid.  Another group says there’s no way DHS won’t be funded. The funds will emerge from another one of those take the battery-out-of-the-clock legislative compromises.

I can see it happening either way: DHS will either be funded or not by Friday. The game finds ways to go on.

If this 2015 version of government shutdown theater follows previous scripts, there will be no resolution by Friday.  Maybe a short term fix happens on Saturday or Sunday, followed by a slightly longer short term fix in the next weeks or months.

How will this situation be resolved enough to allow play to continue?  Will someone in the legislative majority order followers to behave in a certain way?  Will new coalitions emerge?  Will men and women of principle exchange some of those principles for a few other ones?

I came across a footnote in Michael Glennon’s book, National Security and Double Government that offers an explanatory – maybe predictive – theory of how DHS eventually will be funded.

I wrote about Glennon’s argument a few weeks ago.  The central argument is national security policy appears to be run by elected officials, but it’s actually shaped by a usual suspect flock: “the several hundred managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies who are responsible for protecting the nation and who have come to operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints.”  The president, congress and the courts play largely a symbolic role in national security policy, Glennon says.

Here’s the footnote that got my attention as a way to understand how movement from the current budget impasse will happen.

When all is said and done, perhaps the most lucid and succinct account of Trumanite [usual suspects] behavior lies not in socio-psychological theory but in ornithology—bird-watching. Craig Reynolds has theorized that birds adhere to three simple precepts: first, don’t crowd your neighbors (separation); second, steer toward the average heading of your neighbors (alignment); and third, steer toward the average position of your neighbors (cohesion). …. Members of the Trumanite network maintain separate though often only nominal allegiance to distinct organizations that respect each other’s autonomy while at the same time competing for authority (rather like states in the international realm). They align themselves in steering toward other organizations’ efforts to maintain the continuing direction of existing national security policy. And they cohere in the “average position” of their Trumanite neighbors in resisting Madisonian [elected officials] encroachments—while perpetuating the impression of Madisonian control.

Translated into homeland security budget impasse-eze, the theory implicit in the footnote suggests no one is very clear what will happen if Congress does not fund DHS.  Officials have too much to do to become experts on the impact no DHS funding will have.  They have their opinions, but they also rely on the usual suspects – experts and trusted allies from the left, right, center, up, and down – to figure out what their position should be on this budget issue.  Elected officials will provide on-the-record sounds for the public conversation. But many, if not most, of the ideas come in private conversations.

Like a flock of birds, the people who will be at the core of resolving the DHS budget issue will move toward their goal by following a few simple  rules:

1. Maintain enough separation from others to sustain their political independence and reputation for being their own man or woman on this issue.  They will come out of this drama as thoughtful and reasonable people, regardless of where those thoughts come from.

2. Notwithstanding separation, they don’t want to get too far away from the people and interests that mean the most to them, so they’ll take a read on the general direction political neighbors are moving, and continuously align themselves with those positions. The DHS budget is not the only drama in town.

3. Since there are multiple people and interests, maintaining separation and alignment requires sustaining a general cohesion within the flock.

The double government theory argues that national security’s long game takes place in multiple dimensions. Distance here is a psychic space. The closer you are to the players and the arena, the more unpredictable the specific moves.  The further back you stand, the more predictable and familiar the moves.

February 22, 2015

Count-down to February 27

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 22, 2015

The Continuing Resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security will expire this Friday, February 27.

This week is likely to see considerable last-minute and bipartisan efforts to avoid a DHS shut-down. But some perceive a shut-down will advance their political interests, either to reverse the President’s executive action on immigration or to highlight Republican intolerance and incapacity to govern.

According to The Hill:

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on a House-passed Homeland Security bill that includes the immigration amendments, marking the fourth attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to defeat a Democratic filibuster. The effort is expected to fail, leaving Republican leaders in both chambers with the sticky question of how to proceed.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said that the House has done its job and the ball is in the Senate’s court. But an impasse in the upper chamber could force his hand. That sets the stage for a high-stakes meeting of the House Republican conference on Wednesday morning, where GOP leaders are sure to hear an earful from all sides less than 72 hours before Homeland Security funding expires.

Jeh Johnson will appear today on all five of the Sunday talk shows (Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday), so you should not have a tough time catching the administration’s talking points.

The annual process for DHS grant funding has already been seriously delayed.  Many state and local programs have been continued by internal borrowing.  But if this week’s deadline is missed — as now seems likely — several law enforcement, firefighting, emergency management and other groups  will probably send grant-dependent homeland security programs into a hungry hibernation.

My personal schedule this week will not allow much tracking of the give-and-take.  If you see insightful comments or coverage, please link to the comments here.  If possible I will try to monitor and push some of what you’re hearing to the main page.

February 12, 2015

WSJ Opinion: DHS Appropriations and related issues with Capitol Hill updates

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2015


Republicans in Congress are off to a less than flying start after a month in power, dividing their own conference more than Democrats. Take the response to President Obama ’s immigration order, which seems headed for failure if not a more spectacular crack-up.

That decree last November awarded work permits and de facto legal status to millions of undocumented aliens and dismayed members of both parties, whatever their immigration views. A Congressional resolution to vindicate the rule of law and the Constitution’s limits on executive power was defensible, and even necessary, but this message has long ago been lost in translation.

The Republican leadership funded the rest of the government in December’s budget deal but isolated the Department of Homeland Security that enforces immigration law. DHS funding runs out this month, and the GOP has now marched itself into another box canyon.

The specific White House abuse was claiming prosecutorial discretion to exempt whole classes of aliens from deportation, dumping the historical norm of case-by-case scrutiny. A GOP sniper shot at this legal overreach would have forced Democrats to go on record, picked up a few supporters, and perhaps even imposed some accountability on Mr. Obama.

But that wasn’t enough for immigration restrictionists, who wanted a larger brawl, and they browbeat GOP leaders into adding needless policy amendments. The House reached back to rescind Mr. Obama’s enforcement memos from 2011 that instructed Homeland Security to prioritize deportations of illegals with criminal backgrounds. That is legitimate prosecutorial discretion, and in opposing it Republicans are undermining their crime-fighting credentials.

The House even adopted a provision to roll back Mr. Obama’s 2012 order deferring deportation for young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents—the so-called dreamers. The GOP lost 26 of its own Members on that one, passing it with only 218 votes.

The overall $40 billion DHS spending bill passed with these riders, 236-191, but with 10 Republicans joining all but two Democrats in opposition. This lack of GOP unity reduced the chances that Senate Democrats would feel any political pressure to go along.

And, lo, on Thursday the House bill failed for the third time to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome the third Democratic filibuster in three days. Swing-state Democrats like Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp aren’t worried because they have more than enough material to portray Republicans as the immigration extremists.

Whatever their view of Mr. Obama’s order, why would Democrats vote to deport people who were brought here as kids through no fault of their own? Mr. Obama issued a veto threat to legislation that will never get to his desk, and he must be delighted that Republicans are fighting with each other rather than with him.

Restrictionists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions are offering their familiar advice to fight harder and hold firm against “executive amnesty,” but as usual their strategy for victory is nowhere to be found. So Republicans are now heading toward the same cul de sac that they did on the ObamaCare government shutdown.

If Homeland Security funding lapses on Feb. 27, the agency will be pushed into a partial shutdown even as the terrorist threat is at the forefront of public attention with the Charlie Hebdo and Islamic State murders. Imagine if the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of DHS, fails to intercept an Islamic State agent en route to Detroit.

So Republicans are facing what is likely to be another embarrassing political retreat and more intra-party recriminations. The GOP’s restrictionist wing will blame the leadership for a failure they share responsibility for, and the rest of America will wonder anew about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

The restrictionist caucus can protest all it wants, but it can’t change 54 Senate votes into 60 without persuading some Democrats. It’s time to find another strategy. Our advice on immigration is to promote discrete bills that solve specific problems such as green cards for math-science-tech graduates, more H-1B visas, a guest-worker program for agriculture, targeted enforcement and legal status for the dreamers. Democrats would be hard-pressed to oppose them and it would put the onus back on Mr. Obama. But if that’s too much for the GOP, then move on from immigration to something else.


It’s not too soon to say that the fate of the GOP majority is on the line. Precious weeks are wasting, and the combination of weak House leadership and a rump minority unwilling to compromise is playing into Democratic hands. This is no way to run a Congressional majority, and the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton .

End of WSJ Editorial


The Hill reports on differences between House and Senate Republicans on the DHS appropriations bill.

Politico reports that Speaker Boehner insists the House will not pass another DHS appropriations bill.

Roll Call reports that Senator Mark Kirk (Republican, Illinois) indicates Republicans should proceed with a so-called clean bill for DHS appropriations.

Last night Politico posted a piece that suggests a DHS shut-down is more and more likely. “The immigration matter was debated privately at a Republican lunch Wednesday in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, with leading conservatives, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, asserting that Democrats would be the political losers if a DHS shutdown occurs, several senators said. Other immigration hardliners, like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Bill Flores (R-Texas), also argued Wednesday their party would be in a stronger political position if Congress fails to meet the Feb. 27 funding deadline.”

January 29, 2015

DHS FY2015 Funding

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on January 29, 2015

I have been trying to discern the status and prospects of DHS appropriations.

Three facts:

  1. DHS was not included in the December Omnibus Appropriation.  The Department is currently operating on a continuing resolution set to expire on February 27.
  2. On January 14 the  fiscal year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill (H.R. 240) was passed by the House of Representatives.
  3. On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader indicated the Senate will take up the House appropriations bill next week. How Senate action will be structured is not yet clear.

Otherwise it is all rather opaque.  At least to me.  If you have seen a credible, holistic — mostly non-partisan — analysis, please point me to it and I will highlight it here.

Excluding DHS from the December Omnibus allowed the remainder of the federal government to be funded in a way that did not further undermine public (global) confidence; yet also ensured — or at least implied — that the President’s executive actions on immigration were reserved for future attack and potential defunding.  If you will recall, the Omnibus just barely passed, so don’t be too quick to critique this technique.

The House bill includes several measures designed to constrain executive discretion related to immigration.  These measures are highlighted in the Explanatory Statement that Hal Rogers, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, submitted with the bill.  Here’s a take against what the House has done.  Here’s a take mostly in favor.

On Tuesday essentially all Senate Democrats signed a letter calling for a “clean” DHS appropriations bill.  In the current context this means a bill without any (or most) of the constraints on immigration included in the House bill.  To adopt the House bill would, under current Senate rules, require twelve Senate Democrats joining all Republicans. Not going to happen.

Can something be done in the Senate and/or in conference that could give DHS its funding and later pass the House?  This is the question for which many are seeking an answer.  An obvious — and politically palatable — way forward is certainly not apparent to me.

What seems more likely is lack of closure on the FY2015 appropriations: Best case recurring continuing resolutions.  Worst case: Well, sometimes you just don’t want to go there. Worst cases tend to keep unwinding.  But in any case, plenty of distraction, demoralization, dysfunction, and potential for even worse.

October 30, 2014

Follow the money

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014


The graphic shows the rough 2014 budget proportions for the Department of Homeland Security.  The $45 billion figure for the DHS budget is based on an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

Late last week I was showing this pie chart to some graduate students who are exploring homeland security. They are on the edge of completing their law degrees, PhDs, or graduate studies in other fields. But they are interested enough in homeland security to have competed for and been selected for a Graduate Fellowship program at Rutgers University.

I asked, “What do you see?”

“It’s mostly about the border,” said one.

“Excluding the other,” said another

“Fear of the other.”

“Fear of each other.”

A young lawyer suggested this was a narrative theme — an analytical predisposition — that frames how we experience and make sense of reality. He and most of his peers agreed there was some evidence to support the  narrative. But we allow it to shape our orientation well beyond the evidence.

This is not where I was planning to take the discussion.  I was better prepared for a wonky consideration of incremental budgeting, legacy missions, Congressional oversight, etc., etc…

But I did not try to redirect.  We went with “otherness” as a homeland security problem.  Look again, you will see what they saw. Even if you can see other things and offer other explanations, I suggest their fresh eyes are not inaccurate.

It’s an interesting angle on reality, especially coincident with enhanced security being announced — despite the lack of specific threat intelligence.

Toward the end of Jean-Paul Satre’s play “No Exit”, a character proclaims, “So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE! (“L’enfer, c’est les Autres.”)

Most of us have experienced this unhappy truth. But many of us have also experienced, “without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours”… This is indeed the case everywhere, but not in love, which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more complete the distinction…” (Søren Kierkegaard). Without the other we are profoundly diminished.

Two antithetical intuitions equally true, depending on our attitude and the situation. A wicked problem? If so, extending well beyond homeland security.

How can we reason together through this paradox? Without the skill, discipline, and ethic of social reasoning we must defer to the mercy of randomness. I have often found randomness quite generous. But I aspire to — and have experienced — much more.  I know something about social reasoning in small groups.  Elinor Ostrom and others have told me interesting things about social reasoning in larger groups.  Is facilitation of social reasoning an appropriate tool of homeland security?

May 22, 2014

DHS – No hope for a home?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Washington Post dumps an Olympic-size swimming pool’s worth of cold water on the future of a (relatively) consolidated headquarters for DHS at the St. Elizabeth site in Southeast D.C.:

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

It has been a bipartisan affair:

A decade after work began, the St. Elizabeths venture — the capital region’s largest planned construction project since the Pentagon — has become a monumental example of Washington inefficiency and drift. Bedeviled by partisan brawling, it has been starved of funds by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and received only lackluster support from the Obama administration, according to budget documents and interviews with current and former federal officials.

Delays are only making the final price tag rise:

The crippling shortfall in funding has created a vicious cycle, causing delays that in turn inflated the projected price tag as construction costs escalated over time and DHS agencies — still scattered in more than 50 locations across the Washington area — have been signing expensive temporary leases.

The article is full of details regarding difficulties connected with the site.  Also, interesting to at least me, it deploys two narratives about DHS.

The DHS was born at a time when the wounds of Sept. 11 were still fresh and homeland security was the top national priority. The new department melded agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aiming to eliminate gaps in coordination and poor communication that had helped make possible the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

By 2004, department officials were complaining that their headquarters on Nebraska Avenue in the District was one-quarter of the size needed. The operations center was small, with limited infrastructure. And with various DHS components dispersed as far as Herndon, Va., the department was wasting millions on leased office space and transportation costs.

These logistical problems slowed the government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to a 2006 terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives, Chertoff recalled. “People were shuttling back and forth in those critical days after the plot was exposed, and that just made it much more difficult and time-consuming,” he said.

Most of the poor communication and coordination gaps preceding 9/11 existed between agencies not included in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.  To over simplify things, the intelligence community and the military take the lead in fighting terrorism overseas and the FBI generally is out front domestically.  Not to take one iota of importance away from the work of DHS, but it does not get much positive Congressional attention as those entities unless it is politically convenient. And spending billions of dollars on a new headquarters complex for DHS is currently not very politically convenient. Want to bet that the FBI will get a new building before DHS?

The comments regarding logistical problems affecting the Katrina response and the response to the airliner plot are new to me.  I think its a given that having offices spread out over the DC area didn’t make things any easier, but is it a stretch to suggest that the response in New Orleans would have gone that much smoother if only there was a unified headquarters building?

May 1, 2014

DHS: Value received and perceived

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on May 1, 2014

The current Department of Homeland Security annual budget is $46.3 billion. For the roughly 314 million residents of the United States the cost-per-person-per-year is about $147.45.

With our tax payments (and debt service) we jointly cover the expenses of TSA, CBP, FEMA (including the disaster assistance fund), Secret Service, ICE, Coast Guard, NPPD (especially the cybersecurity function),  related research and development, and a bit more.

Through various grants and programs a significant amount of money flows to states and localities.  For example, early this year the rural county where I live received an emergency management grant of $12,500.  The volunteer fire departments and Sheriff department received more.  Even in a small place like this it can be tough to keep track.

I’m not interested in showing you how much I make or pay in taxes, so I won’t share the formula I am using.  But I estimate that in 2013 my wife and I paid into the federal government about $600 that was used to support DHS activities.  Given the per person estimated cost noted above, we could complain we are paying more than our “fair share.”  But given our income and a progressive income tax system, I don’t find it especially unfair.

Still… is the value received worth the value paid?

Our support to DHS is four-times our annual contribution to local public radio.  It’s less than we give our church each month. It’s less than the one-time charitable gifts we made to support recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy or Typhoon Yolanda. My father recently visited for a few days. Entertaining him and extended family cost more than our  DHS support for twelve months.

Certainly, the experience of value is much less direct.  I enjoy listening to public radio everyday.  I have a whole host of favorite shows: Prairie Home Companion, On Being, This American Life, the news.  I try to avoid TSA as much as possible. But that does not mean I want TSA to disappear.   As an average citizen — who is seldom water-borne — I have almost no contact with the Coast Guard.  But I have enormous respect for the Coast Guard.  DHS just warned all of us to stop using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  I use Google’s Chrome.  But I would much prefer that DHS  have the resources it needs to lead domestic cybersecurity instead of DOD.

I have much more familiarity with DHS activities than the average citizen.  So while many assume it is a banal and bloated bureaucracy, I have personally encountered proof.  But I have also been privileged to be in the presence of public servants who demonstrate great creativity, courage, and profound commitment.  In this case I would, if I could, show you a formula for determining value.  But anything roughly accurate is beyond my algebraic competence.

I am left with an impression, less than an assessment of value.

If DHS had to support itself with direct mail solicitations it probably would not get my $600.  But as a portion of the taxes I pay, it feels to me like a bargain.

March 6, 2014

DHS Budget Proposal

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on March 6, 2014

The President has proposed.  This Congress is likely to dispose in a different way.

The FY2015 White House outline calls for a roughly $1.05 billion reduction in the DHS budget to $38.2 billion.  An additional $6.8 billion is targeted at disaster relief.

Early application of green eye-shades seems to suggest Science & Technology, ICE and Coast Guard would lose while cyber would win.  But (again) the Congress is likely to use a considerably different spreadsheet.

According to White House documents:

The Budget provides $2.2 billion for State, local, and tribal governments to hire, equip, and train first responders and build preparedness capabilities. To better target these funds, the Budget proposes eliminating duplicative, stand-alone grant programs, and consolidating them into the National Preparedness Grant Program.

Similar proposals in prior years have not been picked up by Congress.

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers (R-KY) said in a written statement:

The Committee will take a very close look at the President’s request, conduct vigorous oversight over federal agencies, and go line-by-line through the budget to make informed and responsible decisions with the taxpayer’s money. It is important to remember that it is the Congress, not the White House, that holds the ‘power of the purse’ and will decide where to cut, where to sustain, and where to invest tax dollars to the most benefit of the American people.

More and, probably, different yet to come.

December 4, 2013

Expanding or Diluting Our Preparedness Priorities

Today’s guest blogger is “Donald Quixote”  Don comments frequently on Homeland Security Watch.  He writes under what he likes to call his nom de guerre because his agency frowns on its employees posting material without agency approval. 


The House Committee on Homeland Security recently passed the Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act (HR 5997)/ (HR 1791) authorizing the expansion of the use of existing grant programs for enhancing medical preparedness, medical surge capacity and mass prophylaxis capabilities during a natural disaster or terrorist attack.  Reportedly, it does not furnish any additional funding, but provides the ability to leverage the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program.

The pending bill can be viewed from several different perspectives.  The optimist may view this initial accomplishment as Congress finally addressing a very serious threat of a chemical or biological attack that may be looming, or  — rather more likely — the threat of a serious novel pandemic illness.  The pessimist may view it as the continued, wider distribution of limited resources between numerous partners in the ever-vague world of homeland security (whatever that entails, but that is another conversation).  I tend to believe it is both.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, the 2009 H1N1  influenza virus killed 10 times more than previously estimated by the World Health Organization.  A study published in the journal PLOS Medicine estimated the number that died was 203,000.  Although the number appears quite small when compared to the current world population and the momentous number that perished during the H1N1 Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, it remains a relevant number, if accurate, as a warning indicator.

However, how many of us truly appreciate the conceivably massive cascading consequences of a serious novel pandemic threat?

Are MERS, SARS, H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9 warning shots over the bow or just natural occurrences that come and go over time without serious implications?

The topic of biosecurity is not new to this blog.  Mr. Bogis and Mr. Wolfe have identified numerous areas of interest regarding the funding and resources already appropriated for biosecurity and biodefense.  There have been valuable discussions and debates regarding the perceived and actual risks and returns on investment.  The practical value of the previous investments and effectiveness of the many programs shall remain the subject of debate until they are partially or fully tested by an incident or event.

In the realm of a serious novel pandemic illness, I controversially continue to argue that it could easily outrank a conventional terrorist attack as a current threat due to the possibly catastrophic consequences to our citizens, critical infrastructure and civil stability on a broader scale.

We can only ignore the low-probability\high-consequence biological attack or serious novel pandemic illness threat until it happens.  Unfortunately, there is a long history of ignoring this threat because of limited resources and impaired strategic vision.

The Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act, if ultimately enacted, may affect some change in this area or at least spark interest in expanded medical preparedness.




June 22, 2013

Doubling the Border Patrol? Not a Smart Idea

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Christian Beckner on June 22, 2013

Immigration reform legislation has been debated for the last couple of weeks on the floor of the Senate, and late last week a compromise emerged – in the form of an amendment from Sen. Corker and Sen. Hoeven – that appears to have secured enough votes for the bill to survive a cloture vote in the coming week and then move to final passage.  This New York Times story provides a good overview of the state of play.

One of the key provisions in the amendment (which is technically being wrapped into a larger substitute amendment) is $30 billion in funding over the next decade to add 19,200 new Border Patrol agents, nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol from its current staffing level of 21,370 agents.

This proposal is a terrible idea – one that would be wasteful of taxpayers’ money and is not based on sound operational or technical analysis as to what investments are really needed to improve border security.

Before discussing this in depth, let me be clear: I would like to see broad-based and balanced immigration reform legislation be enacted, and it is sensible for a component of that legislation to be focused on border security, as is the case with ‘Gang of 8’ base bill.  Many of the border provisions in the base legislation are reasonable, including proposed investments in technology and infrastructure (although strong oversight is needed on these, given the history of SBInet) and the proposal to increase the number of Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPO’s, who are different from Border Patrol agents).

However, the proposal to double the number of Border Patrol agents is different, and is something that deserves careful scrutiny by people on all sides of this debate before moving forward.

I have three primary concerns about this provision:

First, adding “boots on the ground” may make for a good soundbite, but it’s a costly and inefficient way to improve border security.   CBP spends around $3.2 billion/year today on personnel costs for the Border Patrol – a figure that doesn’t include the cost to train and equip them.  This $3.2 billion is already a very large chunk of DHS’s budget – as a point of comparison, it’s about 3-4 times greater than what the Department spends overall each year in support of its cybersecurity mission.  A proposal to double the Border Patrol would increase that total to over $6 billion/year in current dollars – and this would be an annual investment for the long-term, because of the difficulties associated with reducing such a workforce once you’ve expanded it.

Second, this proposal is not based on any real analysis about operational needs on the border.  Has anyone assessed what are these additional 19,200 agents going to do, or where are they going to work, or what infrastructure is needed to support them?  Not that I’ve seen, and I doubt that any analysis along these lines has been done.  And if we’re going to be making technology and infrastructure investments (e.g. fixed towers, UAVs, better comms) using funds available elsewhere in the legislation to improve the operational efficiency of the current Border Patrol agents, then why it is logical that we would also need twice as many of them?  As it is, we are already at the point where in some parts of the country, we’re seeing the “diminishing marginal returns” in border security that Secretary Napolitano spoke of a few months ago, exemplified by media reports where Border Patrol agents are fighting constant boredom.   Given this, I think it’s very hard to justify this proposal on its operational merits.

Third, it would be unwise to be spending billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol when many of the other parts of DHS (and other key security-focused agencies) are struggling under the weight of four years of flat and declining budgets, topped off in the last few months by the cuts of sequestration.  For example, the Coast Guard is cutting personnel and continues to be delayed in its acquisition of its next generation of maritime vessels due to budget constraints.  (And keep in mind that the Coast Guard’s maritime border security requirements in the Gulf of Mexico and southern California will likely increase as the southwest land border becomes more secure).  The FBI is expecting that it’s going to need to furlough agents next year because of sequestration.  Nearly every part of DHS has felt the impact of budget cuts by Congress in the last four years – in many cases trimming out needed fat, but now to the point where the cuts are having an operational impact.   But now, suddenly, the Senate is proposing to spend tens of billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol without one iota of analysis.

Given these three factors, I would hope that members of Congress in both parties would rethink this fiscally and operationally unwise proposal, regardless of their position on the broader bill.   There are many better ways to accomplish the shared goal of improved border security.  Some of these are already integrated into the base bill, and others, such as increased resources to investigate overseas human trafficking and smuggling organizations, and increases to the intelligence offices at CBP and ICE, and increases to state and local law enforcement grants in border states, would cost much less but collectively deliver a greater overall benefit to border security.

The agents who currently serve in the Border Patrol are hard-working and patriotic, and deserve our support.  But doubling their ranks doesn’t make any sense, and would be a fiscally irresponsible and operationally uninformed decision by the Congress.

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