On Monday, July 11, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 4404, the Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on February 1, 2016, by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security, which ordered the bill to be reported, as amended, on February 2, 2016 by voice vote.
H.R. 4404 requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and conduct an exercise to evaluate the nation’s preparedness against the threat of foreign fighters and terrorists. The exercise shall include: (1) a scenario involving persons traveling from the United States to join or provide material support resources to a terrorist organization abroad and terrorist infiltration into the United States, and (2) coordination with appropriate federal agencies, foreign governments, and state, local, and private sector stakeholders. DHS shall submit an after-action report to Congress, including any identified or potential vulnerabilities in U.S. defenses and requested legislative changes.
In March 2015, the Committee on Homeland Security launched a bipartisan Task Force on Combatting Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel. Eight Members of Congress were charged with examining the threat to the United States from foreign fighters. The Task Force assessed domestic and overseas efforts to obstruct terrorist travel and identified potential security gaps. They issued a final report on September 29, 2015.
The report issued 32 findings and provided more than 50 recommendations for enhancing U.S. security. Among other conclusions, the Task Force report found that the growing complexity and changing nature of the foreign fighter security challenge may be creating unseen gaps in our defenses, yet it has been years since any large-scale “stress test” has been conducted on U.S. government protection and prevention programs against terrorist travel.
The last major government exercise on terrorist travel occurred in 2009. Then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency managed an exercise centered on the “aftermath of a notional terrorist event outside of the United States” and how to prevent “subsequent efforts by the terrorists to enter the United States and carry out additional attacks.” The exercise tested how agencies at all levels of government would respond in such a scenario.
While the 2009 exercise centered on terrorists attempting to enter the country, the Task Force report noted security officials and law enforcement today should be just as concerned about Americans leaving the country to train overseas with terrorist groups as foreign fighters. Such individuals represent a serious security threat to the United States, particularly if they choose to return to the country.
Accordingly, the Task Force report recommended that the Administration should conduct an exercise designed around the foreign fighter threat to test all phases of extremist planning and travel in order to determine how partners at all levels of government and abroad are currently responding to these scenarios. The bill enacts this recommendation by requiring DHS to coordinate an exercise with appropriate Federal agencies to identify weaknesses at home and abroad that may be exploited by terrorists and foreign fighters, particularly to infiltrate the United States to conduct attacks.
According to the bill’s sponsor, “The last time the federal government actually tested our defenses against the threat of terrorists entering our country was seven years ago. Since then, the threat environment has changed dramatically. There are ISIS-related investigations happening in all 50 states. We need to know our systems in place can keep Americans safe, and where there are vulnerabilities, we need to fix them immediately.”
 See Final Report on the Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel at 2.
 See House Report 114-456 at 2.
 Id.at 3.
 Rep. Martha McSally, Press Release, “Another U.S. Rep. McSally National Security Bill Passes Committee,” February 2, 2016.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that enacting H.R. 4404 would not affect direct spending or revenues, and therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply. CBO also estimates that enacting the bill would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027. Based on information from FEMA, CBO estimates that the agency would develop and integrate the new exercises into existing preparedness activities and would incur no significant additional costs.
For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.