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Katko Opening Statement in DHS Reform Hearing

July 15, 2021

Katko Opening Statement in DHS Reform Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following opening statement in a full committee hearing entitled, “Securing the Homeland: Reforming DHS to Meet Today’s Threats.”

Ranking Member Katko’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this timely hearing to discuss reforms for the Department of Homeland Security and thank you to our distinguished witnesses for taking time to appear before the Committee.

We are quickly approaching the 20th anniversary of September 11th and as we do, this committee, and the Department, stand at a crossroads. At this crossroads, we can either choose to work together and successfully enact meaningful changes that will benefit this country, or we can choose to go about business as usual, leaving American communities vulnerable.

Nearly 20 years ago, Congress established DHS by combining 22 separate federal agencies. The intent was to ensure that government would be able to connect the dots of the many threats facing the American people and prevent another 9/11 from happening. To this day, and to its credit, DHS has been successful at preventing many terrorist attacks on our soil, while consistently responding to new and evolving threats to the homeland.

Given these successes, I have been astonished to hear calls from some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for radical changes and budget cuts that would weaken or even abolish critical homeland security missions that protect American lives every day. I cannot express how dangerous I believe this rhetoric to be, as it sends all the wrong messages to our adversaries. While there is no doubt the Department must continue to evolve and mature, its functions are truly critical to our national security and must be improved, not degraded.

After 9/11, DHS was stood up in haste to address the fears and threats facing a distressed nation. As a result, it still faces growing pains and often struggles to nimbly respond to challenges.

For example, since its inception, the Department has struggled to coalesce around a common vision and create a unified culture. Its 22 separate agencies have largely operated independently, keeping their own policies and cultures intact.

DHS has also struggled to centralize support functions for its components, such as acquisitions, IT systems, and financial management, all of which are still on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list. Though the Department has made some progress, there is still more it needs to do. I am encouraged to hear that DHS’ financial systems modernization is back on track and key to ensuring that DHS can support all the components efficiently and are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. However, DHS is still working to centralize other support functions necessary to put the Department in the best position to achieve its many critical missions.

DHS has also made progress in anticipating and addressing new and evolving future threats to the homeland, such as those related to cybersecurity. In 2018, DHS and Congress took action to address cyber threats by establishing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to act as the nation’s lead civilian cybersecurity agency and primary conduit for information sharing and partnership with the private sector. Last week I held a roundtable with CISA on ransomware issues in my district in Central New York to discuss how we can prevent future attacks and further coordinate efforts between DHS and local businesses and governments. An overwhelming takeaway was how much these stakeholders value the free and voluntary services CISA provides. Now is a time to double down on our CISA investment. With the threat landscape we face, there is no other option.

I firmly believe that cybersecurity is the pre-eminent national security and homeland security threat we face. It’s dizzying to think about the string of significant cyber incidents we have seen just over the last seven months – state backed espionage campaigns on federal networks, devastating ransomware campaigns against pipelines, our food supply, transit systems, and critical IT services. The bad guys are emboldened, and we must continue the full court press to flip the paradigm.

Today, DHS continues to make some human capital progress. I applaud the Department for hiring nearly 300 cybersecurity professionals as a part of its 60-day cyber workforce sprint. DHS also says it has exceeded its initial hiring goal of 200 new cybersecurity personnel by 50 percent and is calling it the “largest cybersecurity hiring initiative in its history.” That said, the Department’s authorities to nimbly hire top talent, particularly in the cybersecurity arena, remain too inflexible. We cannot be boxed in by legacy mindsets or bureaucratic inertia.

To fully support CISA’s work, the agency needs sustained, robust funding to carry out its mission and respond to evolving threats. The DHS Secretary has acknowledged that CISA needs to be the quarterback of the .gov, and I fully agree, but CISA will be hard pressed to do so without more substantial funding. To that end, CISA needs to be a $5 billion agency in the next 5 years.

Today, our nation faces vastly different threats than the one that struck on September 11th. This means that we need a DHS that can transform and adapt. We need a DHS that can identify, mitigate, and even prevent these new threats – threats that range from China’s push for global power and influence, to global political and economic instability and organized crime.

However, in recent years, DHS operations have been hamstrung by a high number of vacancies and turnover in senior positions. This also must change for DHS to formulate its strategic plans and to prepare for the future security of the homeland.

Looking forward, the Department would benefit from a thorough assessment of what it is doing now, whether it should keep doing those things, and if there is something it should be doing that it isn’t.

This is where another Quadrennial Homeland Security Review would be invaluable. This is an exercise in strategy required by law every four years, but one that DHS has not be able to accomplish since 2014, seven years ago. I urge the Secretary and the entire DHS leadership to commit to this effort.

It is time for Congress and the administration to commit to the Department by instilling leaders that will buckle down, ask the hard questions, and inspire its workforce to contribute to making DHS into the Department the American people want and need. A DHS that is effective and nimble in responding to disasters, thwarting attacks of all kinds, and that is a steward of the public’s trust.

DHS plays a vital role in keeping us safe as we travel, engage in commerce, recover from major disasters, and navigate an increasingly complex, interconnected world. Despite this work, DHS has struggled to earn the trust of the American public and the confidence of partners and stakeholders. Integrating the disparate mission sets of the Department and ensuring that it is nimble enough to respond to pressing threats is paramount to providing comprehensive security to our nation. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out what DHS needs to do to protect and safeguard the American people.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.