Portman Also Discusses DHS Role in Securing Faith Based and Nonprofit Institutions, and Working to Stop the Spread of Coronavirus
March 4, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) discussed several of his top priorities with Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
First, Portman asked Acting Secretary Wolf how the funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) was being appropriated. The program provides grants to nonprofits and faith-based organizations to help secure their facilities against a potential terrorist attack. Portman and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations From Terrorism Act which authorizes the NSGP at $75 million a year for five years, from FYs 2020-2024 last year and it was signed into law last month.
In addition, Portman asked Acting Secretary Wolf if DHS needed any money through the emergency supplemental appropriations bill in order to address the novel coronavirus COVID-19 to help stem the spread of the virus domestically. Earlier today, Portman announced his support for the newly-released $8.3 billion funding measure to help prevent, prepare, and respond to the domestic spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Finally, Portman highlighted legislation he plans to introduce soon to stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing U.S. taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property (IP). Portman, as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a yearlong investigation into this issue, releasing a bipartisan report in November 2019 that detailed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Portman’s upcoming legislation will stop America’s global competitors, like China, from stealing U.S. taxpayer-funded research and IP and he asked DHS to help address the issue from a homeland security standpoint.
A transcript of their exchange can be seen below and a video can be found here:
Portman: “Thank you. You guys have been busy this last year. And let me follow up on the faith-based and nonprofit security grant program. You’re right, last year we finally got an authorization. The authorization was for less than the appropriator amount actually because there’s such a concern about this and such a need for it so the $90 million that we got into the budget last year for this fiscal year was an unprecedented amount. And it’s needed. We have over 2,000 applications in 2019 that FEMA looked at. You were able to fund 718 of them so I do think there is, you know, based on the analysis we’ve done at least, there are a lot of applications you thought were good applications but didn’t have the funding to be able to grant them. I’m a little confused about your answer on where the money is in the budget because I don’t see it either and I know you support the program and the president also signed the authorization. I appreciate it, I was the author of that authorization. We do have an increased level of hateful messaging, hateful crimes, we had bomb threats in Ohio two weeks ago. They were focused on the Jewish community, specifically some synagogues in Northeast Ohio. It’s a reality. It’s a sad reality but not just in the Jewish community, but the Muslim community, the Hindu community, even the Sikh community there have been some instances, and the Christian community. So can you just, more precisely tell me where the funding is coming from this year?”
Secretary Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security: “Sure, so the security grant program is built within our larger FEMA grant program. I think it hasn’t been a line item to date. We’ve continued to fund it year after year. The bill that the president signed that Congress passed, I think you will see that in future budgets be a line item. Of course, that bill was passed well after the budget was created.”
Portman: “Was passed at the end of the year.”
Mr. Wolf: “For ‘21, correct. But we’ve continued to fund that, we’ve fund that in the past. Again out of the larger pool of our FEMA grants, so it’s there, it’s just not a line item so it doesn’t show up specifically in the budget. But that’s how we’ve continued to fund it and I think you’ll see that reflected specifically based on the legislation that was signed into law.”
Portman: “So you would expect, my understanding is that wasn’t true with regard to previous budgets but, you’re saying it’s within the FEMA grant program and you believe there is $90 million, as Congress appropriated, set aside for this fiscal year?”
Mr. Wolf: “For 20 or 21?”
Portman: “For 20.”
Mr. Wolf: “For 20, I will get you the exact, whether it’s $60 or $90, I don’t have that offhand but I can certainly follow up with you on that.”
Portman: “And with regard to what the number ought to be in the future, there’s been discussion on that as you know. Some members have made announcements that they think it ought to be a certain level and as we’ve looked into those it’s hard to find what the justification is. In other words, what the basis is, seems to me what it ought to be is, you know, how many applications have come in, how you all have scored those applications, and I assume there are, again, a number of them that were qualified but you just didn’t have the funds for and that to me seems to be what ought to lead us into next year as we look at the appropriations numbers to determine what the amount is. Are you willing to help us with that?”
Mr. Wolf: “We are and again, back to the earlier question about grant funding, what we try to do is build up capacities. So what we’re looking at is, you know, houses of worship. As we’re looking at those new houses of worship that need the grant funding to build up their capacity so we continue to look at all of our needs. I will say, we get requests that outpace our resources each and every year for a number of our grant programs. We have resource constraints and have to make those decisions but yes, we will continue to work with Congress on what that right amount is.”
Portman: “I’ve been impressed with your people and also the FBI who have helped us back home in Ohio. We’ve had a conference, a statewide conference and a lot of good information was exchanged. Some of it frankly is just best practices. You know, how to harden a facility, where the cameras ought to be and where security guards should be posted. We also appreciate the fact that last year that you permitted for the first time armed security personnel to receive some of the funding. Understanding you want that to be sustainable over time. So I think we’re making progress, I just want to be sure that we’re coming up with a number that makes sense, that is really meeting the need because again, sadly, I think it is increasing.
“With regard to the Coronavirus, we have obviously a lot of need out there. I’m just looking at the supplemental, we just got this a couple of hours ago. This is the proposed supplemental and Chairman Shelby and the Appropriations Committee sent it out. It looks like it has funding for what you would expect – HHS, NIH, and Food and Drug Administration to try to get some therapies out there and there’s State Department, USAID, aid in here for foreign countries to be able to contain it more. Even SBA has some funding in here, but not DHS. Are you aware of that and why is that? I assume you are playing a central role in this.”
Mr. Wolf: “We are, and again we stood up a number of medical contracts that will say that overall we spent somewhere between $12 and $13 million those far on the department’s response. That was to stand up – so initial costs to stand up a lot of our processes that we see at our airports, land ports of entry. We think that’s probably $2-$3 million going forward per month, so that’s not a big number for us when we look at the whole of government response so obviously we can sustain that funding level to a certain extent. We will probably have to move some of our budget around this fiscal year to address that but the administration wanted to focus this supplemental request, obviously on the medical response. So again, as you indicated, so that dollars is dedicated to HHS, CDC, and others inside the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Portman: “Do you think that under your current TSA budget, for instance, you have adequate funding to be able to respond to the crisis?”
Mr. Wolf: “We do. We have adequate funding to date to do that. Not only to continue our medical contracts, our medical screening that we’re doing at the 11 airports but also the protective measures and protective wear, BPEs that we’re providing our workforce as well.”
Portman: “Finally, on this issue of China and these talent programs, as you know, the subcommittee called the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that this committee spent a year looking at these programs, decided that, in a shocking report, that we had virtually done nothing for two decades to keep Chinese programs like this from taking our research, commercializing it in China – sometimes military, sometimes economic – and we’re coming up with legislation shortly to deal with that, that a lot of the members of this committee will be a part of. But one thing that I wanted to ask you about is how can you help us more to identify people who are coming over to the United States, from China in particular, although other countries are involved as well in trying to get our taxpayer dollar paid research, and specifically members of the Chinese military who have come over here for conferences, for university visits, and it seems to me that there’s a pretty clear intent with a number of these individuals to obtain research while they’re here and take it back. Have you looked into this issue and what do you think DHS should be doing that you’re not doing?”
Mr. Wolf: “Well absolutely, so part of that is an intel issue but it’s also, there’s a number of visa programs that USCIS administers that we see perhaps that have been abused over time that we see a lot of students on certain visas for an extended period of time from China but also from other countries that perhaps they are so large that it’s very difficult for us to monitor those individuals. So, we are working through a number of those visa programs. Happy to talk to you and the committee about how do we root out some of the abuse of those programs while retaining the ability, to again bring over the best and the brightest to continue to fuel the economy. But make sure we do that in a smart way.
Portman: “We want to have appropriate exchanges but I would just say that this committee would be interested in helping you if you’re looking for additional expertise and resources to be able to identify these individuals because this is a growing threat and obviously the problem is getting a lot more attention. You, as I understand it, are about to disband you Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council. I would just warn against that and instead use it for this purpose because the relationship that you have with our higher ed partners is really important for us to be able to deal with this issue and I think that council could be a good forum.”
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