Congress

  • House votes for one-week extension of DHS funding

    On Friday, just hours before the partial shut-down of DHS, the House Republican leadership, with the help of Democratic lawmakers, managed to secure a majority for a one-week extension of the funding for the department. The vote for a one-week extension passed 357 to 60 — but not before a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the GOP House leadership. The leadership was convinced it had the votes for a three-week extension, but that proposal was defeated when more than fifty Republican lawmakers bolted and voted against the bill – and their leaders. Democrats lawmakers then came to the help of the speaker, voting for the one-week extension on what they regard as a tacit understanding that toward the end of this week the House will vote on a “clean” extension of the DHS budget to the end of the fiscal year.

  • Security at U.S. chemical plants, and monitoring that security, still fall short

    Security experts, citing a critical Senate report, are warning that the effort by industry and the government to secure U.S. chemical facilities against terrorist attacks has so far been lackluster at best. The Senate report, sponsored by former Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), found that after eight years and $595 million dollars spent on efforts to further chemical plant security, there had been only thirty-nine compliance inspections of the 4,011 national facilities at risk. In any event, the current chemical facility security policies apply only to a fraction of the facilities which produce, store, or transport toxic materials around the country. The experts hope that H. R. 4007, which reformed and renewed the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), and which became Public Law No: 113-254 on 18 December 2014, will improve and accelerate the security work needed at U.S. chemical facilities.

  • McConnell’s DHS budget plan: “No” to 2014 exec. order, “Yes” to 2012 one

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has put forth a plan to avoid a DHS shutdown after Senate Democrats on Monday refused to approve a Republican-backed $40 billion DHS appropriation which would defund President Barack Obama’s 2014 immigration actions in order to fund DHS. McConnell’s plan would eliminate Obama’s 2014 immigration action to extend deportation deferment to some undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents via the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans(DAPA), but allow a similar 2012 planfor younger undocumented immigrants to continue.

  • DHS shutdown would have only limited immediate impact on national security: Analysts

    If Congress fails to act before the 27 February funding deadline, most DHS operations would continue. During the October 2013 government shutdown, 85 percent of DHS employees remained on the job. Just a little over 30,000 of the department’s 230,000 employees, mostly in managerial and administrative positions, were furloughed.

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  • Undocumented immigrants begin application process as Congressional impasse continues

    While Congress remains in a stalemate on DHS funding and immigration reform, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, on Wednesday, will begin accepting applications from those eligible for an expanded program granting work permits and deportation deferrals to undocumented immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children (DREAMers).

  • Senate Democrats block vote on House’s DHS budget bill

    In late 2014, Republicans decided to fund DHS only through the end of February 2015 in hopes of using further funding request conditioned on defunding the implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive order to halt deportations for many undocumented immigrants. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, are demanding a DHS funding bill which does not interfere with Obama’s immigration plans. On Thursday, for the fourth time, Senate Democrats blocked the Republican move to pass a bill which defunds Obama’s executive order.

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  • Most DHS employees would go on working even if budget is not approved

    The critical responsibilities of many DHS components require approximately 200,000 of the agency’s 230,000 employees to continue working even if Congress fails to fund the agency, as most DHS employees perform work considered necessary to protect human life and property. Still, withholding funding for DHS could delay the department’s employees’ paychecks until the shutdown ends.

  • Cybersecurity sector welcomes Obama’s $14 billion cybersecurity initiatives in 2016 budget

    Massachusetts cybersecurity firms applauded President Barack Obama proposed$14 billion toward cybersecurity initiatives in his 2016 budget. If approved, the federal government would spend more money on intrusion detection and prevention capabilities, as well as cyber offensive measures. Waltham-based defense contractor Raytheon, whose government clients already use the firm for its cybersecurity capabilities and expertise, believes the cybersecurity industry is expected to grow even faster in the coming years.

  • U.S. yet to develop a strategy to secure nation’s critical infrastructure

    For years, the U.S. government has warned federal and state agencies about the threat posed by hackers who may target computer systems responsible for operating nuclear plants, electric substations, oil and gas pipelines, transit systems, chemical facilities, and drinking water facilities. In February 2013, President Barack Obama issued a directive stating, “It is the policy of the United States to strengthen the security and resilience of its critical infrastructure against both physical and cyber threats.” Two years later the federal government has yet to develop or adopt a consensus on how to secure America’s critical infrastructure from cyber criminals.

  • In U-Visa limbo: Undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes

    Many immigrants who are victims of crimes, along with their close family members, remain at risk and are denied the opportunity to live and work in the United States as long as Congress fails to increase the number of U-visaswhich immigration authorities can grant per year. Congress established the program in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Actto provide an incentive for immigrant victims to report crimes to law enforcement without fear of deportation. Applicants must allege that they have been the victim of a serious crime and provide a certification form signed by law enforcement confirming the applicant’s help or potential help in investigating the crime. USCIS, which processes the applications in the order they were received, has not evaluated any applications submitted after December 2013.

  • Lawmakers seek to create single food safety agency to improve oversight

    Lawmakers are seeking to pass a bill which would a single food safety agency to replace the current multi-agency system, which critics say is “hopelessly fragmented and outdated.” Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) have proposed the 2015 Safe Food Act, which would replace the current food safety oversight system – which consists of fifteen different agencies — with a single organization.

  • Boomerang: Democrats say they would delay vote on Iran sanctions bill

    Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) announced during a Senate hearing yesterday (Tuesday) that he and other Senate Democrats would not support bringing the sanctions bill he cosponsored with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) to the floor until at least 24 March. Menendez has led a small group of Democrats who were critical of the administration’s handling of the talks with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program talks. The bi-partisan approach to the sanctions issue collapsed in the face of what Democrats considered to be a clumsy politicization of the issue by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Dermer suggested to Boehner the idea of inviting Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress to criticize the administration’s policy. Netanyahu is lagging in the polls behind the center-left camp in the 17 March parliamentary elections in Israel, and Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s closest political advisers, believed the speech would boost Netanyahu’s standing in Israel. The process of the invitation was not less problematic than the invitation itself: In an unprecedented break with protocol, Boehner and Dermer did not bother to consult with, or even inform, the White House or the Department of State that they were arranging for a foreign head of state to speak before Congress.

  • Patriot Act’s reauthorization an obstacle for cyber information sharing bill

    Recent cyber hacking incidents have persuaded lawmakers to pass a cyber information sharing bill which will help protect U.S. private sector networks. Business groups and federal intelligence agencies insist that information exchange is critical to protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure. One of the hurdles to passing such a bill is that by 1 June, Congress must reauthorize sections of the Patriot Act which are the basis for the NSA’s most controversial surveillance programs. Many lawmakers consider NSA reform to be essential before they can support the White House’s cybersecurity proposal, which would allow cyber information sharing between the public and private sector.

  • House delays vote on “the toughest border security bill ever”

    The House was supposed to vote on Wednsday on what Republicans have called “the toughest border security bill ever,” but the bill encountered harsh criticism from different sides of the GOP caucus. Some complained the measure does not address the pressing issue of immigration reform, while others complained it was the first step on slippery slope toward such reform. The border security bill, Secure Our Borders First Act (H.R. 399), sponsored by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would impose harsh penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements. One mandate aims for DHS to achieve “operational control,” or prevent illegal entry across the southern border, within five years. If DHS fails to achieve that objective, political appointees at the agency would be prohibited from traveling in government vehicles, receive reimbursement for nonessential travel, or receive pay increases or bonuses.

  • Proposed changes to CFAA, RICO would criminalize cybersecurity research: Critics

    Cybersecurity professionals are concerned that the White House’s proposed changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, could criminalize cybersecurity research. The legislative proposals would make accessing public documents illegal if the documents’ owner would not have approved; create stricter punishments for anyone convicted of a cybercrime; and would allow the government to seize assets connected to cybercrimes. The White House also proposes upgrading hacking to a “racketeering” offense.