As technology changes and the foreign landscape shifts, the terror threat to the United States continuously evolves. To keep up, Congress must constantly reevaluate federal homeland security policies.
Terrorists now use encrypted applications to communicate with one another. They take advantage of social media networks to infiltrate homes and radicalize those susceptible to their hateful, violent ideology. They disseminate instructions to build crude bombs and attack soft targets.
Thankfully, technological advancements also improve the ability of security agencies to prevent and respond to attacks. Cutting edge capabilities are meaningless, though, if the federal bureaucracy can’t move quickly enough to adapt to new realities.
Policy adjustments, then, have to focus on the minutiae to keep security programs functioning at full effectiveness.
But Congress isn’t comprised of career security officials and military leaders. It’s a body made up of citizens from diverse backgrounds and with varying skill sets. Congressional hearings – not the type that feature Roger Clemens or look like the Senate proceedings from “The Godfather”, but hearings that drill down into the gritty details of issues and programs – offer legislators the expert feedback that’s key to crafting good policy.
I’m Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, which has jurisdiction over anti-terror and natural disaster policies. This summer, I chaired a hearing in New Jersey to examine ways to improve transit security. Little did I know that two months later, a bag full of bombs would be dropped at a train station a few miles away from where the hearing took place.
Security experts from transit agencies testified that unrealistic deadlines made it difficult for them to spend their federal funding in the most effective manner. They also faced challenges funding security training for their employees.
Early next week, the House of Representatives will vote on legislation I sponsored in direct response to the feedback from my hearing. The Transit Security Grant Program Flexibility Act isn’t a sexy, solve-every-problem type bill. It extends the timeframe in which grant recipients may spend their funds to ensure they can complete complex physical security improvements, and it allows transit agencies to use grant funds for employee security training. But it’s just this kind of under-the-radar policy work – based on feedback from on-the-ground experts – that keeps America’s security protocols up-to-date and effective.
My subcommittee is part of the House Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by my good friend Michael Mc Caul. For the past two years, this committee has been a workhorse in responding to the evolving terror threat. More than 75 homeland security bills have passed the full House of Representatives, legislation that keeps our nation safe and secure.
This past weekend’s startling events in New York City and New Jersey underscore the reality that hateful radicals will continue to target our way of life. This much we know.
By continuing to solicit input from the experts and act quickly, your policymakers are keeping us one step ahead.