WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement announcing the creation of a blue ribbon commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS):
“I am deeply concerned with the lack of transparency from the Secret Service regarding the recent security breach at the White House. While I recognize USSS is conducting an internal review, this will not fully address the incidents of the past. This latest episode adds to the growing list of failures from an agency plagued by operational challenges, cultural problems, and reporting difficulties. These incidents have led to an unfortunate reality where the Secret Service must re-establish their credibility.
“We need a comprehensive, independent assessment of the agency to ensure we have a Secret Service that can be trusted to fulfill and excel in its vital missions. As such, I will introduce legislation to establish a blue ribbon commission charged with conducting a full, top-to-bottom review of the agency. The commission will recommend specific steps the Secret Service can take in order to ensure it has the best possible leadership structure, internal policies, tools, and resources to meet its mission.”
A blue ribbon commission is a panel of experts established by Congress or another governing body to investigate or study a specific issue and provide independent findings and/or recommendations. Since 2011, the Secret Service has had numerous security breaches highlighted in the media, including: the 2011 shooting of the White House by Oscar Ortega-Hernandez; the 2012 Cartagena prostitution scandal; and the most recent security breach on September 19, 2014, when Omar Gonzalez scaled the north fence of the White House grounds and ran 70 yards into the unlocked front doors of the residence.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, last week called on the U.S. Secret Service to provide greater details regarding the recent White House security breach, including information on the agency’s on-going internal investigation.
On September 19, 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez scaled the north fence of the White House and ran 70 yards to the unlocked front doors of the White House.
“My colleagues on the Committee on Homeland Security and I remain concerned about this security breach,” Rep. McCaul said in a letter to U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson. “We are also concerned about what could be perceived as a lack of communication between state officials and the U.S. Secret Service concerning potential threats to the President.”
It was later reported that Gonzalez was under indictment for a weapons related offense in Virginia stemming from a pursuit on July 19, 2014, and had been stopped by the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service on August 25, 2014 after observant officers near the south fence of the White House noticed a hatchet in his waistband. At the time of his arrest in Virginia, Gonzalez was in possession of a sawed-off shotgun, two rifles and a map with the White House clearly marked.
The signed letter from Chairman McCaul to Director Pierson is available HERE.
The text of the letter to Director Pierson follows:
Mrs. Julia A. Pierson
United States Secret Service
Washington, D.C. 20223
Dear Director Pierson,
I write today concerning the events of September 19, 2014, when a subject identified as 42-year- old Omar Gonzalez scaled the north fence and ran to the unlocked front doors of the White House. Fortunately, Gonzalez was stopped, but not before he ran nearly 70 yards across the White House lawn and entered the White House complex. I sincerely appreciated you taking the time to brief me personally after the incident occurred and sharing your plan of action.
However, it was recently announced that Gonzalez was under indictment for a weapons related offense in Virginia stemming from a pursuit on July 19, 2014, and had been stopped by the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service on August 25, 2014 after observant officers near the south fence of the White House noticed a hatchet in his waistband. At the time of his arrest in Virginia, Gonzalez was in possession of a sawed-off shotgun, two rifles, and a map with the White House clearly marked.
My colleagues on the Committee on Homeland Security and I remain concerned about this security breach. We are also concerned about what could be perceived as a lack of communication between state officials and the U.S. Secret Service concerning potential threats to the President.
In order to better assist this Committee in its efforts to support the Secret Service, please provide responses to the following questions:
1. What is the timeline of events related to the incursion by Gonzalez from the date of his arrest on July 19, 2014 to the point he was apprehended on September 19?
2. What is the process for receiving and acting on information from state or local law enforcement that involves not only specific threats to the President and First Family, but also issues that could involve threats to the White House complex, as seen with Gonzalez in July 2014?
3. What are your recommendations to better fortify the White House complex? Specifically, what short and long-term steps is the Secret Service taking to improve security at the White House complex? What additional training, aif any, will Uniformed Division officers receive in response to this incident?
4. When was the current Secret Service Use of Force Policy last updated for the White House complex?
5. Please outline the policies for the use of deadly force at the White House complex.
6. To what extent does the presence or absence of the President and First Family affect the level of authorized force, personnel assignments, and the mission posture for officers responsible for external White House Security, if at all?
7. What role did canine units play in the incident?
8. When will Secret Service complete its internal investigation and what is the scope of this investigation?
9. Will personnel found to be responsible for the breach be held accountable?
10. When was the last comprehensive risk assessment conducted of the White House complex?
11. What can the Congress do to enhance and strengthen the protective mission of the Secret Service?
Please provide a classified and/or unclassified written response to the Committee no later than October 10, 2014.
MICHAEL T. McCAUL
Cc: The Honorable Jeh Johnson, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, today released the following statement regarding U.S. military and partner nation forces conducting airstrikes in Syria against the terror group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS):
"When in times of war and of peace it is important that we come together as a nation. To defeat ISIS, we must cut off the head of the snake, which exists in Syria. I support the administration’s move to conduct airstrikes against ISIS wherever it exists. ISIS is not just a threat to the United States - it is a threat to all nations that value human life and decency. We must continue to lead the coalition and utilize all tools available to combat this threat until ISIS is destroyed."
Last week, at a hearing held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report, entitled “DHS and GSA Need to Strengthen the Management of DHS Headquarters Consolidation.”
The 77-page report, originally requested by Subcommittee Chairman Duncan and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, details the mismanagement of Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) project to establish a new consolidated headquarters at St. Elizabeths. The project is over budget and schedule by $1 billion and 10 years.
GAO found that DHS and the General Services Administration’s (GSA) plans for the headquarters do not reflect leading best practices for capital decision making and reliable cost and schedule estimates. Furthermore, GAO recommends that Congress make future funding for the project contingent upon DHS and GSA developing new plans for St. Elizabeths that follow these established guidelines.
“The truth is that DHS and GSA don’t have any idea how much St. Elizabeths will cost or when it could be finished,” said Duncan.
The GAO report made several recommendations and called on Congress to make funding contingent on the agencies strengthening their plans. “Congress should heed GAO’s recommendation that no new funding be appropriated until DHS and GSA get their act together,” said Duncan.
“GAO found that this project is another example of DHS and GSA not consistently following their management policies and best practices,” said McCaul. “In a time of tight budgets and increased threats from around the world, it is all the more important that taxpayer dollars on homeland security are used appropriately for DHS’s vital missions. I urge the department to follow GAO’s recommendation to reassess this project, and any further funding from Congress should be conditional to their creation of a new plan.”
In January, Duncan released a majority staff report, which reviewed the potential areas of cost growth, selection and planning issues, and the effects of green initiatives and the site’s historic status on construction costs at St. Elizabeths. The report also questioned why DHS has not conducted a major reassessment nor considered a new approach to headquarters consolidation.
Full video of the subcommittee hearing is available HERE.
Media Contacts: Shane Wolfe (Royce) 202) 225-5021
Lauren Claffey (McCaul) 202) 226-8477
Allen Klump (Duncan) 202) 225-5301
Washington, D.C. – This week, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, called on Secretary of State John Kerry to put on hold the Department’s current plans to construct a costly new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FAST-C) while their requested Government Accountability Office (GAO) review is completed.
In order to ensure critically important improvements to embassy and diplomatic security are completed in the most effective, efficient, and timely manner, Royce, McCaul, and Duncan have requested a GAO review of the State Department’s pending proposal to construct the new FAST-C in Blackstone, Virginia and the Homeland Security Department’s proposal to expand its own Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia to meet the State Department’s needs. The Homeland Security Department estimates that its proposal would save U.S. taxpayers nearly $1 billion over ten years.
While there is an urgent need to increase and improve diplomatic security training following the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, and the rising anti-American militancy in North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere, the State Department’s proposed brand new FASTC would not be completed for at least 5 years at a cost of $450-$900 million. The GAO review will determine whether DHS’s FLETC is an already operating suitable alternative.
In their letter to Secretary Kerry, Royce, McCaul, and Duncan wrote: “By leveraging existing facilities to meet State’s training needs, FLETC estimates its proposal could save the U.S. government almost $1 billion over 10 years. With such a substantial amount of projected cost savings, we believe it is critical that FLETC’s estimate receive thorough consideration and a full, independent analysis…. It is critical that an independent and unbiased analysis be conducted to determine which agency’s proposal offers the required training at the best value to the American taxpayer.”
The text of the two letters follows:
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We are writing to express our concerns regarding the Department’s plan to move forward with construction of the new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (“FAST-C”) at Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia. Our Committees have asked the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) to review the proposals put forward by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the Department of State (“State”) to determine which proposal meets the State’s security training requirements in the most effective, efficient, and timely manner. Our Committees request that State not move forward and expend any funding for development at the Fort Pickett site until the GAO review is complete.
Embassy security and the safety of U.S. personnel abroad are areas of great concern to us. Over the past two years, our Committees have conducted oversight through full Committee hearings and staff briefings, and we assess that the State Department’s existing Diplomatic Security (“DS”) training facilities may be insufficient to meet recommendations put forward by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) that was convened following the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi. Specifically, we are concerned about the implementation of the ARB’s recommendations that State develop courses for DS agents and other State personnel integrating high-threat training and risk-management decision processes and provide Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training for all personnel assigned to high-risk, high-threat posts.
We understand that State, in an effort to comply with these ARB recommendations, has proposed that the General Services Administration (GSA) construct a new FASTC at Fort Pickett, an Army National Guard facility in Blackstone, VA. This proposal aims to consolidate State’s eleven security training facilities, improve instructional efficiency, and provide training to an estimated 9,000-10,000 DS and other State personnel. The initial cost for this project was over $950 million, but a reduction in scope lowered that estimate to approximately $907 million and then to $460 million, including a commensurate reduction in projected capabilities. We understand from State that the cost could change further.
We are mindful, however, that DHS already operates FLETC, which provides security training for DHS and 91 law enforcement and military partner agencies and organizations including DS. FLETC currently possesses extensive existing infrastructure that could be expanded and upgraded – including construction of new buildings, weapon ranges, and driving tracks – to meet the requirements in State’s original plan at a cost of $272 million. By leveraging existing facilities to meet State’s training needs, FLETC estimates its proposal could save the U.S. government almost $1 billion over 10 years. With such a substantial amount of projected cost savings, we believe it is critical that FLETC’s estimate receive thorough consideration and a full, independent analysis.
We are further concerned by the widely differing cost estimates provided by State and DHS to satisfy State’s security training needs. Our Committees have received varying information about which requirements are critical to improving the safety of personnel and facilities overseas and how each proposal would satisfy those requirements. It is critical that an independent and unbiased analysis be conducted to determine which agency’s proposal offers the required training at the best value to the American taxpayer.
Last year, in the annual State Reauthorization legislation (H.R. 2848) the House conveyed its bipartisan desire to see an independent analysis precede any expenditure of funding. It is our understanding that the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) has reviewed both State and DHS proposals and our Committees have repeatedly requested access to any documentation related to the OMB review. Unfortunately, the Administration has not responded to those requests. Instead, the General Services Administration (GSA) recently posted a notice for a supplemental environmental impact statement to be conducted on State’s Fort Pickett site. This indicates State’s intent to expend existing funds to move forward with FASTC without additional analysis of alternative sites, including FLETC, which the GAO study would provide.
We look forward to seeing the results of the GAO review and trust that the Department will not embark on such an expensive undertaking without allowing for the completion of a thorough, transparent, and unbiased review process.
The Honorable Gene Dodaro
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20548
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
We understand that the Department of State (“State”) is moving forward with plans to construct a new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (“FAST-C”) in Blackstone, Virginia. The selection of the Fort Pickett site comes after more than a decade of failed proposals to develop property at other sites in the Washington-Metro area and the inability to expand current use at the Bill Scott Raceway in Summit Point, West Virginia. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has submitted a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to retrofit an existing law enforcement training center in Glynco, GA (the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or “FLETC”) to service the Department of State’s needs. The FAST-C and FLETC proposals vary considerably in cost, scope, and projected completion time, which we believe warrant an impartial review before the Administration moves forward with either.
It is our understanding that State has proposed that the General Services Administration (GSA) construct a new FAST-C at Fort Pickett, an Army National Guard facility in Blackstone, VA. This proposal aims to consolidate State’s eleven security training facilities, improve instructional efficiency, and provide training to an estimated 9,000-10,000 Diplomatic Security (“DS”) and other State personnel. The initial cost for this project was over $950 million, but a reduction in scope lowered that estimate to approximately $907 million and then to $460 million. We understand from State that the cost could change further.
DHS already operates FLETC in Glynco, GA, which provides security training for DHS and 91 law enforcement and military partner agencies and organizations. DHS has proposed to expand and upgrade the current FLETC facility – including construction of new buildings, weapon ranges, and driving tracks – to meet the requirements in State’s original plan at a cost of $272 million. By leveraging its existing facilities to meet State’s training needs, FLETC estimates its proposal could save the U.S. government almost $1 billion over 10 years. With such a substantial amount of projected cost savings, we believe it is critical that FLETC’s estimate receive thorough consideration and a full, independent analysis.
We thereby request that the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) review both the Department of State’s FAST-C proposal and the DHS proposal to expand the existing FLETC site to meet State’s requirements. A review should consider the strengths, weaknesses, and risks of each agency’s existing capabilities, proposed new infrastructure, and any other relevant tangible factors.
In order to ensure the highest quality security training is provided at the best price to the American taxpayer, we request that GAO address the following questions during its review:
1. Does the State Department have a strategic capital planning process and, if so, how does it conform to leading practices and how do its plans for a new DS training center fit into it?
2. What requirements has the State Department established for a new DS training center, and how do the different proposals, such as the status quo, FAST-C, FLETC, and others fulfill those requirements?
3. To what extent do the cost estimates for the project conform to leading practices?
4. What are the potential consequences of any changes in scope being considered for the project on the effectiveness of State Department training and for meeting project requirements?
Tomorrow, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency will hold the following hearing to examine the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) new report, which examines the management of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) headquarters project at St. Elizabeths.
FRIDAY, September 19 at 9:30 a.m.
Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency
Oversight of the DHS Headquarters Project at St. Elizabeths: Impact on the Taxpayer
311 Cannon House Office Building
Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan, R-SC, on the hearing: “Since 2006, the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration have spent over a billion taxpayer dollars to construct a new DHS headquarters on the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast Washington, D.C. The goal was to consolidate leadership and operations to make the department more efficient. However, a majority staff report released by our subcommittee earlier this year showed significant cost increases, schedule delays, and questionable decisions. Because of these concerns, I asked our congressional watchdogs to conduct a comprehensive review of the project. This hearing will thoroughly examine the findings from the Government Accountability Office’s report.”
*LIVE video of the hearing will be available here.
Today, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, held a hearing entitled “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland,” which focused on the government’s efforts to combat the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) threat both at home and abroad, as well as cybersecurity threats.
FBI Director James Comey, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and NCTC Director Matt Olsen testified on the challenges the government faces in tracking terrorist travel to and from the region, and the danger radicalized Americans pose. The U.S. estimates that about 15,000 foreign fighters have flown to Syria, up from a previous estimate of 12,000. Over 100 of these are Americans.
In the United States, the FBI has arrested more than half a dozen individuals seeking to travel from the U.S. to Syria to join the fighting there, possibly with ISIS. However, more needs to be done to gain intelligence on these foreign fighters. “These radicalized Westerners represent an exceptionally grave threat to the U.S. homeland because of their militant training, extremist connections, ease of travel, and intimate knowledge of the West,” said McCaul.
“In February, I said that Syria had become a matter of homeland security. Principally, because of this issue of foreign fighters. And so, monitoring, interdicting the travel of those who might want to leave this country and go there is an area of top concern right now,” said Johnson. “I think we have a reasonable degree of confidence - not a high degree of confidence, but a reasonable degree of confidence - that we know the numbers [of foreign fighters with Western passports] and we know who’s attempting to travel.”
Comey added “There’s thousands of ways to get from the United States to Syria and there are tens of thousands of American who travel for legitimate purposes every single day. So, sorting among that group to find the bad guys is something we spend every single day focused on. We’ve had good success, but I’m not overconfident, given the nature of the challenge.”
“Once in Syria, it's very difficult to discern what happens there,” confirmed Olsen.
McCaul also expressed his concerns regarding the government’s efforts to stop ISIS’s recruitment of Americans: “The ideological struggle against violent Islamist extremists is taking place not just overseas, but also here at home. There have been more than 70 homegrown violent Jihadist plots or attacks in the United States since 9/11. More than two thirds of them have been uncovered or have taken place in only the past five years. Many of the suspects were radicalized, at least in part, by online Islamist propaganda, including the Boston Marathon bombers and the Fort Hood attacker, a tool ISIS excels at and utilizes. Additionally, federal authorities just yesterday indicted a U.S. citizen from Rochester for raising money, recruiting and facilitating training for ISIS.”
“These are the home-grown violent extremists that we worry about, who can get all the poison they need and the training they need to kill Americans, and in a way that's very hard for us to spot between the time they emerge from their basements and maybe kill innocent Americans,” said Comey.
The witnesses detailed DHS’s outreach programs for at-risk communities and the FBI’s joint terrorism task forces that work with state and local partners to identify and arrest individuals before they carry out attacks.
“A fundamental tenet of the strategy that we all work on together with respect to countering violent extremism is that the neighborhoods and communities that are at risk, they're in the best position to identify someone who's on the path to radicalization. So, an important part of this effort is to give them the tools, the education, the knowledge, the information to understand how magazines like the ones you just showed can influence an individual, and then be able to work with their state and local law enforcement community and federal law enforcement community to intervene when someone is on that path,” said Olsen.
For video of the hearing and the written testimonies click HERE.
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