Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security overwhelmingly approved multiple transportation and border security bills. These measures include a resolution to continue the sharing of vital passenger information among our allies in the fight against terrorism, a bill requiring the Department of Homeland Security to gain operational control of the border within five years, and legislation to provide expedited airport screening for U.S. military personnel.
The Committee passed H. Res. 255, introduced in May by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-NY), and Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-MS), which urges the continued sharing of passenger name record (PNR) data among the U.S and the European Union (EU).
Under an agreement reached in 2007, the EU and U.S. set standards for sharing information provided by airlines which is used to screen against watchlists and detect terrorists and criminals engaged in international travel. The information has been used in numerous terrorism investigations including in the arrests of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and David Headley, a planner of the Mumbai attack. Recently, the EU has made efforts to limit the agreement, which was intended to remain in place until 2014.
Chairman King said: "The sharing of this vital PNR data has been a successful tool in our fight against terrorism, and weakening this tool would be detrimental to the security of both the United States and Europe. We cannot take such a risk as long as terrorists are still attempting to use airplanes as weapons against us."
The resolution passed by voice vote.
The Committee also passed H.R. 1299, The "Secure Border Act of 2011," introduced by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. H.R. 1299, as amended, would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to gain operational control of the border within five years.
Subcommittee Chairman Miller said: "For far too many years, our nation has lacked a clear and concise plan to gain and maintain operational control of the borders. My legislation directs the Secretary of DHS to develop a strategy for securing our borders and ports of entry by taking into account personnel, technology and other resources to meet our nation's security requirements. Our common defense begins with effectively securing our borders, and the American people rightly expect and demand that the federal government take the responsibility to secure the borders now."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called the term "operational control" an "archaic" measure and has indicated that DHS is in the process of developing a new measure. H.R. 1299 would require any new measure to be evaluated by a Department of Energy National Laboratory to ensure that it is suitable and statistically valid.
H.R. 1299 passed by voice vote.
The Committee also passed H.R. 1801, introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), which, as amended, provides members of the Armed Forces, and their accompanying family, expedited TSA screenings.
Rep. Cravaack said: "This legislation would require TSA to develop a separate screening process for military personnel flying on civilian aircraft. This legislation is past due for so many of our nation's heroes serving our great country."
H.R. 1801 passed by voice vote.
Additionally, the Committee passed:
· H.R. 1447, introduced by Ranking Member Bennie Thompson, which would create an Aviation Security Advisory Committee under TSA. The bill passed by voice vote.
· H.R. 915, introduced by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). H.R. 915, as amended, would authorize the establishment of Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) teams. These interagency forums, designed to combat cross-border crime, would be composed of representatives from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Coast Guard, and other state and local law enforcement agencies. The bill passed by voice vote.
· H.R. 1165, introduced by Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX), which, as amended, creates a TSA Ombudsman Office. The bill passed by voice vote.
Each of the measures passed by the Committee today will be sent to the Full House for consideration.
For detailed information on today's markup, visit the Committee on Homeland Security website.