WASHINGTON – Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) — Oversight, Management, and Accountability subcommittee ranking member — delivered an opening statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled “Business as Usual? Assessing How DHS Can Resume Operations Safely.”
Remarks as prepared below:
Thank you, Chairwoman Torres Small.
I want to start my statement by remembering and commemorating the life and service of Border Patrol Agent Johan Mordan. Agent Mordan’s Watch Ended last Thursday, June 11th in New Mexico. Agent Mordan volunteered to serve and protect our nation’s border. While most of America was shut down and many in government worked from home, Agent Mordan continued to be on the front lines with the many men and women of the Department of Homeland Security whose mission does not allow them to work from home. We are forever grateful to these men and women and I am grateful we can have this hearing today about the important topic of getting all of DHS back to work for the American people.
DHS has over 200,000 employees tasked with protecting the American homeland. Although COVID-19 is a significant threat to the American people, the threat of terrorists, criminals, and others who wish us harm does not diminish simply because our focus may be elsewhere. Because terrorism does not take sick leave, it is essential DHS leadership maintains operational capabilities throughout this pandemic while striving to keep its employees healthy.
Although many DHS employees perform duties that do not allow them to telework; for those that are able to telework, DHS quickly initiated telework policies to protect those employees.
As part of the reopening of America, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management issued guidelines based on information from the CDC for the heads of all federal agencies to utilize in making decisions regarding returning employees to on-site work. Those guidelines allowed agency heads to exercise a great deal of discretion. It is my understanding that DHS has been developing plans for return to work that include a lot of flexibility for its workforce and take into account underlying conditions, as well as specific circumstances of employees.
As DHS begins to transition back to normal operations around the country, the health and safety of the employees returning to onsite work is of the utmost importance. Given that many DHS employees continued to work at their duty stations, the Department should focus its plans on keeping all DHS employees, whether in the office or in the field, safe and healthy as we continue to battle COVID-19.
As we move toward reopening facilities, it is important to realize that the health and safety of DHS employees is intertwined with the health and safety of the American public that they serve. The employees at DHS must be protected from individuals with COVID, but also need to protect individuals visiting DHS facilities from being exposed to COVID. This will require proper screening tools for anyone entering the facilities or worksites and adequate protective gear and barriers for both employees and the individuals they serve.
Some DHS employees, such as those at USCIS, which operates on a fee based model, are facing the real possibility of losing their jobs and income due to agency activities having been put on hold during the pandemic. Although it is important to keep people healthy by preventing exposure to COVID, we should keep in mind that health is also tied to having enough money to meet basic needs. The loss of jobs and businesses from the widespread closures is a real public health threat that also must be addressed. Unemployment can lead to both physical and mental health issues. We must get creative in addressing this shortfall as well.
DHS needs to have a plan in place for addressing the needs of employees, as well as the public. The plan must have sufficient flexibility built in to allow for modifications as information on containing the virus continues to evolve. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on the needs of the employees they represent, and the steps DHS should take to protect them.
While I am pleased to participate in this important hearing today, I would prefer we conduct OMA hearings in person. There’s no reason our small subcommittee cannot safely meet in our committee room. I hope this is the last time we have a virtual hearing and look forward to working together to make that a reality.
I yield back.