Congress

  • Efforts to discourage unaccompanied minors from entering U.S. have so far failed

    The administration’s efforts to discourage children from Central America and Mexico from illegally entering the United States continue to gain little traction, and the number of migrants under eighteen years old illegally crossing the U.S-Mexico border continues to increase. Officials blame the surge in young migrants on the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a 2008 law which made it difficult to repatriate unaccompanied minors without letting then appear before an immigration judge. The administration has asked Congress to change the 2008 law to give DHS greater discretion in repatriating Central American children more quickly, but some Senate Democrats have vowed to block narrow changes to immigration laws.

  • Privacy advocates worried about new Senate cybersecurity bill

    Privacy groups are concerned that a new Senate cybersecurity bill could give the NSA unrestricted access to personal information of Americans. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a counterpart to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which passed the House in 2013, would create a “gaping loophole in existing privacy law,” several privacy advocacy groups wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

  • Obama administration wants $500 million to train, equip moderate Syrian rebels

    The Obama administration is planning to escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, and has asked Congress for $500 million for the U.S. military to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. The training program would be the most significant action yet by the United States in the conflict in Syria. Yesterday’s (Thursday) request to Congress comes as the administration is looking for effective alternatives to the jihadist ISIS which is now in control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq. The $500 million request is separate from the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, of which some $1.5 billion would go toward counterterrorism efforts in countries around Syria — Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. The president also wants to set aside $500 million to “address unforeseen contingencies” in counterterrorism, which administration officials said was a reference to developments in Iraq.

  • Congress may modify the amount, manner by which Project BioShield procurements are funded

    In 2004, Congress passed the Project BioShield Act to provide the federal government with new authorities related to the development, procurement, and use of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism agents. Among other things, the authority allows the government to guarantee a market for CBRN medical countermeasures. Under this provision, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) may obligate funds to purchase countermeasures that still need up to ten more years of development. Since 2004, HHS has obligated approximately $3.309 billion to guarantee a government market for countermeasures against anthrax, smallpox, botulism, radiation, and nerve agents. Another provision established a process through which the HHS secretary may temporarily allow the emergency use of countermeasures which lack Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The 113th Congress may also consider modifying the amount and manner by which it funds Project BioShield procurements.

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  • Badly engineered missile defense systems deployed “because there was a rush”

    In 1983 President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to build space- and ground-based missile defense systems. The space-based component was abandoned as impractical, and the focus shifted to Ground-based Midcourse Defense systems (GMD). Despite disappointing results and program test failures, Congress and the George W. Bush administration pressed forward with spending billions on acquiring systems of questionable reliability. “We recognize the problems we have had with all the currently fielded interceptors,” Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall old an industry gathering in February 2014. “The root cause was a desire to field these things very quickly and very cheaply; we are seeing a lot of bad engineering, frankly, and it was because there was a rush.”

  • A bill offers a military path to citizenship for Dreamers

    The Enlist Act,authored by Representative Jeff Denham (R-California) would allow immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally before 2012 and below the age of fifteen at the time (Dreamers) to enlist in the military, earning them permanent legal status, and upon honorable discharge, eligibility for U.S. citizenship. Denham and his co-sponsors tried to get the proposal though the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA), a bill likely to pass, but House leaders rejected the idea.

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  • Critics say $265 billion transportation bill insufficient

    Transportation advocates criticize the lack of an increase in funding in the Senate’s $265 billion surface transportation bill recently unveiled. Senate leaders said the bill would replace the current transportation funding measure and maintain current funding levels, adjusted for inflation, for the next six years. The proposed bill includes $44 billion annually for road and transit projects, based on a Congressional Budget Office(CBO) estimate of how much funding will be needed to maintain current federal transit programs. The CBC has projected that Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by August 2014 without congressional action.

  • Bill would encourage development of drugs to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) reported that two million Americans are infected by antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year, and the pathogens cause 23,000 deaths annually. In 1990, about twenty pharmaceutical companies had large antibiotic research and development programs, but today only three large firms and a few small companies are investing in antibiotic research. A new proposed bill, the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistant Microorganisms Act, would encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • Lawmakers want safer waste storage at nuclear plants

    Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a set of bills aimed at improving the safety and security of nuclear power plants’ waste in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism. One of the bills would require nuclear power plant operators to accelerate the transfer of nuclear waste stored in spent fuel pools into dry cask storage units. Current Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) regulations allow spent fuel to remain in spent fuel pools until the reactor completes decommissioning, which can take as long as sixty years. Another bill would stop the NRC from issuing exemptions to its emergency response and security requirements for reactors that have been permanently decommissioned.

  • Cybersecurity bill not likely before a crisis proves its necessity

    A recent simulation, with 350 participants from congressional staffs, the cybersecurity sector, and the U.S. military, examined whether or not Congress was capable of passing a comprehensive cybersecurity legislation to protect the country’s critical infrastructure from debilitating cyberattacks. The simulation participants concluded that Congress is not likely to act unless there is a major cyber crisis, and that until such crisis occurs, smaller measures, such as the president’s voluntary cybersecurity framework, are the best that can be hoped for.

  • Industry, Democrats reject GOP-sponsored TRIA-extension draft

    House democrats and members of Property Casualty Insurers, a leading insurance trade group, have rejected a Republican-sponsored draft proposal which would alter some measures of the current Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). The Property Casualty Insurers did not mince words, calling the GOP plan “unworkable for the marketplace.” The proposal would raise the amount of damage caused by a terrorist attack from the current $100 million to $500 million before government coverage is triggered (the higher threshold would apply to attacks which do not involve nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological means).

  • Congress urged to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act

    The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) is set to expire at the end of 2014 and members of Congress are urging its reinstatement before it is too late. The bill was enacted in 2002 in response to 9/11, and requires private insurers to offer terrorism coverage to individuals, with government assistance should the total payout from an event exceeds $100 million.

  • Chemical plant security measure moves forward in the House

    The House Homeland Security Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are making progress on legislation meant to extend DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standardsprogram, which helps secure commercial chemical plants from terrorist attacks. Several attempts by the House Homeland Security Committee to extend the program have failed due to disagreements with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also oversees the matter.

  • House mulls Syria-related sanctions on Iran

    U.S. House legislators are considering new terrorism-related sanctions on Iran, targeting the country’s support for Hezbollah, after ceding to the Obama administration’s request to back off on sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program. The House Foreign Affairs Committee hopes the move will reflect their independence from the White House and also bring more focus to the Syrian crisis.Lawmakers say the bill would reflect the most effective ways to disrupt Iran’s financial support of Hezbollah.

  • 9/11 terror network in U.S. was never fully dismantled, still a threat

    A joint inquiry co-chaired by a former senator has warned that the American network that supported and trained the 9/11 hijackers was never fully dismantled, and that it remains a threat, pending the release of a secret report from the era. Former Senator. Bob Graham (D-Florida) points out that a 28-page section from the “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001” was classified under President George W. Bush and remains so under President Barack Obama.