House GOP Discusses Immigration and Border Security at Retreat
At the House GOP’s annual retreat on January 30-31, the caucus debated a broad set of immigration and border security principles drafted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and House Republican leadership. The one-page list of principles is very broad; while they are a starting point for debate, they do not provide legislative guideposts. Although the House GOP has begun to discuss a path forward, the House is not expected to consider legislation until after the 2014 spring primaries. Many still expect the Border Security Results Act (H.R. 1417), introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), to be the first bill considered.
Flood Insurance Legislation Gains Momentum
After extensive debate, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013 (S. 1846), introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by nearly 30 Democrats and Republicans, passed in the Senate. This bill would forestall planned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program rate increases. Supporters argued that FEMA should delay the increases for up to four years. However, the White House argued that there should be a phased-in approach. Moreover, the bill’s prospects remain uncertain because House leaders pulled the related Flood Insurance Relief and Transparency Act of 2013 (H.R. 3693) from the floor in late December amid criticism from House conservatives over using federal funds to support the program.
This Week’s Hearings:
Tuesday, February 4: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security will hold a hearing on the “Future of the Homeland Security Missions of the Coast Guard.”
Executive Branch Activity
DHS Grounds Drone Fleet After Crash
DHS has temporarily grounded its fleet of 10 unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs,” or drones) after a Predator B maritime surveillance drone crashed off Point Loma, CA due to mechanical failure. The cause of the failure is still unknown, with DHS spokesman Michael Friel stating that the fleet was grounded out of “an abundance of caution.” The crash has brought increased attention to DHS’s safety procedures for drones, as well as the status and timeline of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plans to integrate domestic government and commercial drones into the civil airspace.
DHS and TSA Announce Pay and Staffing Changes
In anticipation of tough questions from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, DHS announced that it was suspending certain overtime privileges – “administratively uncontrollable overtime” allowances – for a number of DHS employees, in particular for Customs and Border Protection staff. The decision was announced before a DHS Office of Special Counsel official testified that six new whistleblowers had made allegations of overtime abuse since the office’s October 2013 report to the White House. In addition, the Transportation Security Administration has announced plans to reduce its staff of 100 criminal investigators after arguably over-paying them at the premium rate intended for law enforcement officers, even though their jobs are more administrative in nature. The agency has not yet announced when it plans to make staff reductions.