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The Woodrow Wilson Center
- DHS 2015: The Secretary's Progress Report (6.34 MB PDF)
Good afternoon. I want to start with a family photograph (not pictured).
Though you won’t believe this, this is me and my kid sister in 1966. I was 8 years old, standing next to my Dad’s 1966 Buick convertible. The most striking thing about the photograph is that as recently as 1966, a private, everyday family of tourists like ours could drive our car onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and park it, with no inspection or prior notice, just a few feet from the building.
This is the same spot, today. The public parking lot is gone, replaced by a few black Suburbans, police vehicles, and heavily-armed members of the Capitol Police. Sadly, there are threats to our homeland security today that did not exist in 1966. The Department of which I am Secretary is responsible for addressing those threats.
A year ago I stood here and spelled out my vision for the future of the Department of Homeland Security. I was then new to the job. Now, a year later, I'm here to provide a progress report on our efforts, with the benefit of a year's experience.
I thank Jane Harman and the Wilson Center for once again providing me with the forum for this speech. Jane Harman is a wise supporter, advisor and mentor. In this town, people like her mean a lot to people like me. We could not govern without you. Thank you and the Wilson Center for everything that you do.
Improving the Manner in Which We Deliver Homeland Security
On New Year’s Day I wrote out a set of New Year’s Resolutions for the senior leadership of DHS. At the top of the list were things that go to the manner in which we conduct business and deliver homeland security. The reality is that DHS is a very large conglomerate of 22 components that is only 12 years old. We are a large bureaucracy. We are still finding our way, but we are headed in the right direction.
Filling the vacancies. First, over the last year we have filled almost all the senior-level vacancies that existed in the Department. Just prior to the time I took office a year ago, the Department of Homeland Security had no Secretary, no Deputy Secretary, and vacancies at a number of senior-level positions.
We now have a new Secretary (me), a new Deputy Secretary (Alejandro Mayorkas), a new Under Secretary for National Protection and Programs Directorate (Suzanne Spaulding), a new Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis (General Frank Taylor), a new Under Secretary for Science and Technology (Dr. Reggie Brothers), a new Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (Gil Kerlikowske), a new Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services (Leon Rodriguez), a new Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Sarah Saldana), a new Chief Financial Officer (Chip Fulghum), a new Deputy Administrator of FEMA (Admiral Joe Nimmich),a new Inspector General (John Roth), a new Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs (Brian de Vallance), and a new Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (Tanya Bradsher).
Unity of Effort. We are restructuring the whole manner in which we make decisions within the Department of Homeland Security. In April I directed a “Unity of Effort” initiative, which has brought about a more centralized and integrated process for making decisions concerning budget requests, acquisition, strategy and other department functions. We are moving away from decisions made in stove pipes. As part of this initiative, we have created a Joint Requirements Council consisting of senior leaders from the DHS components, to identify and recommend investments to maximize efficiency. We have also realigned seven major DHS headquarters functions, to consolidate like functions and promote efficiency.
We are actively working through slates of candidates to fill the vacancies that have arisen in the past year: a permanent Director of the Secret Service and Administrator of TSA.
A commitment to transparency. Next, as I said here last year, we are committed to greater transparency. Government transparency breeds credibility and confidence; government secrecy breeds suspicion.
One of our executive actions that the President announced on November 20 is to direct our Office of Immigration Statistics to collect, maintain and report consolidated DHS-wide data on the number of people we apprehend, remove, return or repatriate every year, in a manner that can be made public. Here again, we’ve been far too stove-piped in how we collect and report this information.
I applaud Chief Fisher for making public the Border Patrol’s use of force policy last year, and Commissioner Kerlikowske for making public the recommendations of the independent Police Executive Research Forum about use of force by the Border Patrol, two documents long sought by the media.
Improving Morale. The Deputy Secretary and I are on an aggressive, multi-faceted campaign to improve morale within components of DHS.
In October of last year we restored the Secretary’s Awards Program, which had been dormant since 2008, to recognize more than 300 employees who have made outstanding achievements across DHS.
Getting off the GAO High Risk List. Next, DHS is one of 16 departments and agencies on GAO’s so-called "High Risk List." We are on a path to get off that list soon. Indeed, GAO has informed us that our interactions with GAO serve as a “model” for how other federal agencies can work to address GAO’s high risk designations.
Improving responsiveness to Congress. We have improved the Department’s responsiveness to Congress.
This, despite the challenge of -- depending on how you count -- 92 committees and subcommittees of Congress who claim an oversight role over this Department.
Members of Congress1 on both sides of the aisle, including some of our biggest critics, have taken note.
From Worst to First in Plain Language. Finally, and my favorite one, which I learned about last week, in the judgment of the Center for Plain Language, the Department of Homeland Security has gone from worst to first among federal agencies in our ability to communicate in plain language – one of my personal passions.
* * * *
In these challenging times, management reform is itself a homeland security imperative. Now, here is where we are on the substance of some of our important missions:
I said here a year ago, as long as I am Secretary, counterterrorism will remain the cornerstone of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission. Thirteen and a half years after 9/11, it’s still a dangerous world. And, in 2015, we must recognize that we have evolved to a new phase in the global terrorist threat. Today the terrorist threat is more decentralized, more diffuse, and more complex.
We are concerned about the so-called foreign fighter who leaves his home country, travels to another country to take up the fight there, links up with terrorist extremists, and may return home – whether it’s this country or one of our allies -- with a terrorist extremist purpose.
We are concerned about terrorist organizations' new, slick and skilled use of the internet to publicly recruit individuals to conduct attacks within their own homelands. AQAP no longer builds bombs in secret; it has now publicized its instruction manual, and has called for people to use it.
We are concerned about the domestic-based threat lurking in our midst -- the so-called "lone wolf" -- who may become inspired by this extremist propaganda on the internet, and who could strike with little or no notice.
So, what are we doing about this in 2015?
First, as everyone knows, we are taking the fight to these groups, in places like Iraq and Syria.
Our intelligence community continues to detect terrorist plots at their earliest stages.
Domestically, the FBI investigates, interdicts and prosecutes terrorist plots in the homeland.
In response to the recent attacks in Paris, Ottawa, Sydney and elsewhere, and the public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks in the West, I directed that the Federal Protective Service increase its presence at federal buildings in major cities in the United States.
We continue to tailor and enhance our security through every appropriate method. For example, the visa waiver program we offer to 38 nations is a valuable tool for international commerce and travel. It is a program that must continue, but there are ways in which the security of the program can be improved. To enhance security while maintaining the integrity of the program, last November we identified added information fields to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization – or “ESTA” – to learn more about those who travel to the United States from countries for which we do not require a visa. We are considering further security enhancements.
We are engaging our allies in Europe and elsewhere to encourage them to maintain and share travel information about individuals of suspicion.
We are sharing more information and training with state and local law enforcement in this country. Given the manner in which the terrorist threat is evolving, the cop on the beat must be as vigilant as the intelligence analyst.
Engaging the community
Our efforts must include public engagement. DHS, along with the Justice Department, are engaging communities, organizations and institutions here at home that are themselves in a position to deter others who may be turning toward violence. In 2014, DHS held over 70 of these roundtables, meetings and other events in 14 cities around the country. I personally participated in these meetings in Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Minneapolis, Boston and Los Angeles.
If You See Something Say Something™
We are doubling-down on our "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign. Yesterday at a pre-Super Bowl press conference in Phoenix I rolled out this new, enhanced program. This must be more than a slogan.
Our counterterrorism efforts also include continued vigilance in aviation security. Last summer I directed that we enhance aviation security at overseas airports with flights directly to the United States. Several weeks ago TSA made further enhancements, and we are reviewing whether more is necessary.
As Secretary I have made it a DHS priority to establish pre-clearance by Customs and aviation security personnel at overseas airports, before a passenger gets on a flight bound for the United States. At present, we have pre-clearance in 15 overseas airports at which we have screened more than 16 million passengers before they arrived in the United States. The newest of these pre-clearance operations, at Abu Dhabi in the UAE, opened early last year. Since that time, at Abu Dhabi alone, we have already screened 364,000 passengers and crew bound for the U.S., and denied boarding to 571 individuals, including a number who were in the terrorist screening database.
We want to build more of these, at overseas airports where it makes sense from a homeland security point of view, and in a way that U.S air carriers will support. Last year we put out a solicitation and received 25 letters of interest from airports around the world.
Fixing our Broken Immigration System
We are taking steps to fix our broken immigration system. Some say we should have waited for Congress to act. Let's not forget that we did wait, for years, and Congress did not act. The President continues to urge Congress to finish the job and pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill. He is willing to work with any serious partner – Democrat, Republican or Independent – who wants to fix the system. In the meantime, we must improve the system within our existing legal authorities. We did that, and the President announced these set of reforms on November 20, 2014.
We've established a new program of deferred action for undocumented adults. Those who have committed no serious crimes, have been in this country since January 1, 2010, and have children here who are citizens or lawful permanent residents, are eligible to be considered for this program. The reality is that these immigrants are not enforcement priorities. Therefore, we want to encourage these people to come out of the shadows, be accountable, pay taxes, and get on the books, so we know who they are.
Our executive actions also prioritize the removal of felons over families, includes a number of measures to further secure the border, discontinue the Secure Communities program and replace it with a new program, streamline legal immigration to boost the economy and promote naturalization, support military families, and enhance options for foreign-born high-skilled workers, entrepreneurs and businesses.
Strengthening Border Security
We are taking a number of steps to further secure the border. I'm on a mission to strengthen border security, and to also replace public misperception with the facts.
In June 2013, Pew Research conducted a survey and asked the following question: "Just your best guess -- compared with ten years ago, do you think the number of immigrants entering the U.S. illegally today is higher, lower, or about the same?" Amazingly, 55% of respondents answered higher, and only 15% answered lower.
The reality is on this slide. In the year 2000, apprehensions on the southern border-- which are a direct indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally -- exceeded 1.6 million. Apprehensions on the southern border have dropped considerably since then, to around 400,000 a year in recent years. Apprehensions are in fact at their lowest rate since the 1970s.
These numbers are no doubt partially due to economic conditions and trends in the U.S., Mexico and Central America, but also due to the very large investment this Nation has made in border security over the last 15 years.
Today’s Border Patrol has the largest deployment of people, vehicles, aircraft, boats and equipment along the southwest border in its 90-year history. This includes a budget of $3.5 billion, a total of 23,000 personnel, and 20,833 border patrol agents.
Without a doubt, we had a challenge last summer, with the unprecedented number of unaccompanied children and others who crossed a narrow area of our southern border into the Rio Grande Valley, in search of a family member and a better life in this country. We responded aggressively with more people and resources on the southern border.
Beginning in mid-June the numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border declined sharply, and are now at far lower levels.
But, we are not declaring “mission accomplished.”
The President and I are committed to building an even more secure border, and a smart strategy to get there. Much of illegal migration is seasonal. The poverty and violence that are the “push factors” in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador still exist. The economy in this country – a “pull factor” -- is getting better. There is still more we can and should do.
We are pursuing a risk-based strategy for border security. This means focusing resources where our intelligence and our surveillance tell us the threats exist. This is a smart, effective and efficient use of taxpayer resources.
There are more aircraft, surveillance, radar technology and other equipment that our experts have determined we need, which we have requested for FY 2015.
In December we opened a new family facility in Dilley, Texas that will house up to 2,400 individuals.
We are continuing aggressive public awareness messaging in Central America and elsewhere. This "know the facts" campaign was launched on January 5th.
On January 21, I wrote another open letter in the Spanish language press to repeat the message.
Finally, we have launched a Department of Homeland Security-wide Southern Border Campaign Plan.
We are doing away with the stove-piped approach to border security.
Instead, we are putting to use, in a combined and coordinated way, the assets and personnel of CBP, ICE, CIS, the Coast Guard, toward the goal of border security.
We have established three new Department task forces, each headed by a senior official of this Department, to direct the resources of CBP, ICE, CIS and the Coast Guard in three discrete areas. The first, Joint Task Force-East, will be responsible for our maritime ports and approaches across the southeast. The second, Joint Task Force-West, will be responsible for our southwest land border and the West coast of California. And the third will be a standing Joint Task Force for Investigations to support the work of the other two Task Forces.
Lawful Trade and Travel
A key part of our mission is to facilitate lawful trade and travel. This is vital to commerce and our economy. President Obama is committed to this.
Last year TSA continued to expand the very popular TSA Pre-check program, enrolling 800,000 new participants. At the same time, TSA screened 653 million total air passengers -- 14 million more than the year before -- 443 million checked bags, and 1.7 billion carry-on bags.
Last year CBP screened 374 million passengers at land, sea and airports, an increase of 4% from the year before, and enrolled an additional 1.25 million travelers in the various Trusted Traveler Programs, to bring total enrollment to 3.3 million members. In 2014, CBP also processed $2.4 trillion in trade, an increase of 4% from the year before, and 25.7 million cargo containers through ports of entry, a 4.5% increase from the year before.
We are working with Canada and Mexico on programs and initiatives to facilitate the lawful and secure movement of goods and people between our countries. In response to President Obama’s executive order, DHS is leading a 47-agency effort to create a national, electronic “Single Window” trade processing system for importers and exporters to do business with the United States. We are working to modernize in other areas to promote lawful trade and travel.
We need to make strides in cybersecurity.
Through our National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, or "NCCIC," DHS is responsible for assisting and sharing information with the private sector concerning cyberattacks and threats, and for securing the civilian .gov networks.
I was pleased that, last year, Congress provided bipartisan support for our efforts, with the passage of legislation which codifies DHS's authority to assist the private sector, codifies DHS's authority to assist other federal agencies, and legislation to enhance DHS's ability to hire cyber talent.
We need to go further. On January 14, President Obama came to the NCCIC and announced his Administration's support for more cybersecurity legislation that will ensure our economic prosperity, national security and individual civil liberties. We are proposing legislation to (1) encourage the private sector to share cyber threat indicators with the NCCIC, (2) protect the private sector with limits on civil and criminal liability when they do, (3) require businesses to notify victims and the government when there is a data breach at that company, and (4) enhance criminal penalties for cybercrime.
The Secret Service
The Secret Service is the finest protection service in the world. No other agency of any government in the world could protect 135 world leaders all at once when they gather for the UN General Assembly. The Secret Service does this each year with great professionalism and without incident. The Secret Service continues to enjoy the President's trust and confidence, as it protects him and his family. It has built tremendous talent and capability to pursue cyber and financial crimes.
However, recent events have highlighted the need for change. In October I appointed an independent panel to take a hard look at the Secret Service. In December the panel reported its findings back to me. Those recommendations were astute, thorough and fair. A number of security enhancements have already been made and implemented by Acting Director Clancy, but the Secret Service must also commit to longer term and more systemic change. For my part, I am committed to sustained and encouraged oversight of the Secret Service, to ensure that it has what it needs to get the job done.
Last year our Federal Law Enforcement Training Center trained over 59,000 officers and agents from federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement.
The Coast Guard
We are ensuring that the Coast Guard has what it needs to get its job done. These are exciting times for the Coast Guard, as it is replacing its aging fleet with new vessels. Four new National Security Cutters are in service and a fifth will be commissioned this summer. Twelve new Fast Response Cutters have been delivered and are making a difference every day in south Florida, and we are more than halfway to completing the replacement of our fleet of aged patrol boats. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is in the design phase of a new mid-size Offshore Patrol Cutter. I am committed to ensuring this project is affordable before going forward with the selection of a general contractor and production.
FEMA has become the premier emergency management agency in the country and has earned the confidence of federal, state and local leaders throughout. In the year I’ve been in office, I have personally had the opportunity to observe this at disaster recovery sites.
Support from Congress
Finally, DHS cannot pursue all these important missions alone. I cannot print money. I cannot appropriate money. We need a continued partnership with Congress. We need a FY 2015 appropriations bill.
At present DHS is operating on a continuing resolution which expires on February 27. As long as we are on a CR, we are restricted to last year's spending levels, and cannot engage in any new spending and activities.
This means we cannot pay for the added border security that I talked about.
This means we cannot invest in the things the independent panel recommended to improve the Secret Service; we cannot hire new Secret Service agents for the coming presidential election cycle.
This means we cannot fund new non-disaster grants for state and local governments that mayors, police chiefs, fire chiefs, and governors depend on.
Our ability to fund aviation security, maritime security, port security and homeland security is severely constrained as long as we are on a CR.
As originally introduced by the House Appropriations Committee, the FY 2015 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security was a good bill. It appropriated $39.7 billion for the Department and funded many of the things we need. On the House floor the bill was amended to include politically-charged language to defund all our executive actions to fix the immigration system. The President has vowed to veto any bill that includes such language.
The clock to February 27 is ticking. In these times, the homeland security budget of this government should not be a political football. I urge Congress to pass an appropriations bill for DHS, free and clear of politically-charged amendments.
I will end with the very last two words I ended last year’s speech with. Last year, I said that, in the name of homeland security, we should not sacrifice our values as a Nation of people who cherish privacy and freedom, celebrate diversity, and are not afraid. Fear is corrosive.
In the final analysis, courage and resolve in the face of challenge are the greatest strengths of any nation. Terrorism cannot advance if we refuse to be terrorized. Whether in response to a terrorist threat, a natural disaster, a deadly virus, or in the pursuit of a more perfect union, courage and resolve will always prevail.
Thank you for listening.
 Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX):
“Mr. Secretary, I want to begin by thanking you for your accountability. . . Your responsiveness to our requests and our questions and your commitment to transparency – I think there’s a long way still to go within the department, but in the last 12 months, we’ve seen more transparency than we’ve seen in years. And so I really do appreciate that.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT):
“I can tell you, since you’ve taken office, the production and the response to Congress in terms of responding to our letters and inquiries is – the difference, I cannot tell you how much better it is. And I thank you and the people who work on this. I do appreciate [that].”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK):
“Jeh Johnson has proven to be a capable leader, a transparent partner with Congress, and committed to making tough decisions and improving the Department.”