DHS Secretary Makes Passionate Plea to Congress to Fully Fund Department
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson voiced a hesitant optimism Thursday that U.S. Congress will come together to fully fund the department before tomorrow’s deadline that could shutter parts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Without a successful vote by Congress, at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the DHS will begin furloughing about 30,000 employees, including most of the headquarters staff, while another 200,000 will work without pay, Johnson said during a press briefing to discuss the need for Congress to pass an appropriations bill to fully fund the department.
“Things seem to be moving in the right direction,” Johnson said of the wrangling in Congress. “I’m optimistic because I have to be. I have to be optimistic … for our people,” he said of the DHS employees.
Earlier this week, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), U.S. Senate majority leader, offered a possible compromise bill to block funds from some immigration actions put in place by the White House. The political melee centers on a decision by President Barack Obama to grant temporary work permits to an estimated 5 million immigrants who entered the United States illegally. Republicans have led a movement to block the effort. Republicans in the House of Representatives are working on stopgap measures and continuing resolutions in case the full Congress cannot reach an agreement.
Johnson has been making the rounds at public events in Washington, D.C., to sound the alarm. More than a dozen representatives from various firefighting and police departments and associations flanked the secretary as he made yet another public plea for congressional accord and commitment to fully fund the department.
The department currently is operating on a continuing resolution that expires Friday.
In addition to the impact on DHS personnel, Johnson said the lack of a fully funded budget impacts the $2.3 billion in grants the department provides to public safety offices across the country to respond to terror attacks, major disasters and other emergencies.
Quantifying the impact is difficult to describe beyond focusing on a dollar figure, added Craig Fugate, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator. DHS funding has paid for training and equipping many first responders, and failure to keep the department funded would subvert gains and cripple progress. “This is a perishable capability,” Fugate said.
In 2013, the DHS was shut down for 17 days in another budget dispute, leading to furloughs from which the department “has not been able to get back on track,” Johnson said. “Any time you ask people to come to work without pay, it creates anxiety within families, anxiety on the job. That has a lasting impact in my view."