Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf Testimony Transcript - transcription powered by Happy Scribe

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Was named actors, the acting secretary of Homeland Security in November the 13th, 2019, prior taking on this very challenging task, he developed and coordinated strategies and policies that advance the Homeland Security Mission and protected the American public through his leadership role in the Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans. Mr. Wolfe is a recipient of the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security's Distinguished Service Medal for his initiatives to counter domestic and international terrorism and safeguard American interests throughout the duration of his career.

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The department so thank you for that. I'm glad to be joined by our subcommittee's ranking member, Senator Tester. We can we are continuing to consider or beginning to consider actually the fiscal year 2021 budget requests. And look forward to further insight today from you. Mr. Secretary, very pleased to be joined by the ranking member of the full committee, heard the Senator Leahy as well in the in the fiscal year 2021. I hope to build on the progress made in the fiscal year 2020 bill, which was enacted on December the 20th, 2019 on a broad bipartisan basis.

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1 to our 2020 bill provided a total of fifty point four six billion dollars in discretionary funding and included several significant investments that will shape and protect the homeland for years to come. It provided billions of dollars to support border security, including funding for a border wall system, sensors and cameras, humanitarian care requirements and health life and safety issues all at existing border patrol facilities. It provided more than 22 billion for the for FEMA to support disaster relief efforts and state grant programs to provide additional funding for the Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention to combat emerging threats.

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It funded the deployment of aviation security equipment, which I actually saw myself in at TSA headquarters, designed to enhance global threat detection capabilities and increase efficiencies for our travelers. Included billions of dollars to ensure that the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard have the operational capacity to carry out their domestic and overseas missions, prioritize funding for election security, certainly in 2020. It's critical and provided funding for greater cyber threat analysis and response capability in federal, state, local, tribal and critical infrastructure networks.

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It provided millions of dollars to develop a detection system for small nuclear material, smuggled narcotics and conventional explosives. It also included funding in grant, support for missing and exploited children investigations. But one of the things I'm most proud of is in that 20 bill, because it's so critical to me and my state, is the continuing efforts of the department to combat the opioid and methamphetamine crises. Our state of West Virginia is acutely affected by this challenge, is promising to see that the investments made by the first bill in twenty nineteen, the subsequent bill in 2020 have had some tangible impacts on some of these previous.

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Some of these previous investments include increases to law enforcement personnel and improvements to detection equipment at ports of entry. Investments to significantly enhance ISIS ability to investigate the drug trade on the dark web and funding to increase I-S investigative staffing in Appalachia, particularly affected area and other regions affected by the drug crisis and funding for the opioid detection research. These are real investments that will make a significant distance difference and we plan to continue to work with you to make sure these investments are put to good use.

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When we conducted our hearing with the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2020, we spent the majority of our time discussing the security and humanitarian crisis at the southwest border. At that time, the border crisis was receiving a great deal of attention, and rightly so. After billions of dollars of investments through a supplemental appropriations and our F.Y.I 20:20 bill, I can say that the intensity of the situation at the border has diminished, but challenges obviously still remain with tens of thousands of apprehensions every month and tons of citizens and excuse me, ins, tons of seizures of contraband.

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We helped provide what was needed at the border. At the same time, we as a subcommittee did not lose sight of the department's many other critical missions throughout the duration of the crisis. And I'm just named some counterterrorism, trade enforcement. Human trafficking, maritime security. Opioid and drug interdiction. Presidential protection. Cybersecurity. Infrastructure protection. Emergency management. Continuity of government immigration services. Law enforcement training. Countering weapons of mass destruction. State and local information sharing and most recently supporting efforts to contain that could hit coronavirus.

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Just to name a few I know going forward will remember the role that this subcommittee plays in enabling and scrutinizing all of the missions of the department as we were discussing all the department's MISCH missions. I'd like to note the budget proposals to shift the Secret Service out of the Department of Homeland Security. As you know, and as I feel, the six Secret Service is a critical component of the department and conducts important missions across our nation. And I look forward to better understanding this proposal.

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Given all of the department's critical needs, I am again disappointed that many of the budget, many parts of this budget request are not grounded in reality, including one assuming that the appropriate committees of Congress will authorize new revenue to assuming that the appropriate committees of Congress will restructure FEMA grants, and that the Appropriations Committee will agree to cut these grants by three fourths of a billion dollars and three failing to annualise many of the critical bipartisan security related activities that we funded.

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And F.Y.I 20. These funding gaps allow the department to propose spending money that it does not have. Throwing a massive bill on our laps and making our job harder. Congress is not afforded the luxury of ignoring reality and pushing think tank like concepts when it annexed appropriations bills. While the practice of digging budgetary holes and expecting Congress to fill them may prevent the department from making tough choices at the time that the budget is presented. It actually reduces the department's influence over the final outcome.

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Acting Secretary Wolf. Thank you for appearing before us today. We will make you sure that you and and your team keep us up to date on what resources you need to continue the good work that you are doing. And I now turn to my ranking member, Senator Tester from Montana. Thank you.

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Chairman Camp. I want to thank you very, very much for having this hearing today. And I want to thank you, Acting Secretary Wolf, for being here to discuss the fiscal 2021 budget request. The department, Homeland Security. I would be remiss if I didn't say. I think it's very unfortunate that acting is in front of your name. I think we've found plenty of time to nominate and confirm judges who some aren't even qualified. But yet somebody who has your stature, does not get confirmation, have that permanent designation.

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I just want to put that in for the record. I want to express my thanks, not only you, but to the 240000 employees of DHS who work to keep us safe in the homeland, secure DHS. As the chairman has pointed out, has a broad mission, including countering terrorism from foreign and domestic threats, securing cyberspace and critical infrastructure, and threatening preparedness and resilience, supporting natural disaster response recovery and securing our borders. I look forward to hearing from you on how your budget balances against these priorities, because at first glance, the budget doesn't fully appear to address some of the real security vulnerabilities that our country faces.

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The proposed budget places an emphasis on an ineffective border wall and requires thousands of new deportation officers in detention beds. This all seems to be funded by cuts to vital national security programs such as cybersecurity, aviation security, chemical security, preparedness, grants for local communities and innovative research. This is an alarming trend with regard to the border war. Congress has appropriated $4.5 billion over the last four fiscal years. The president has taken another ten point one billion from military and six hundred one million from Treasury, fortune of fortune, fortune to fund over bipartisan objection of Congress.

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Put all those numbers together. That's almost $20 billion. And now we're being asked to fund another two billion dollars in DHS budget for fiscal 2021. Not one dime of this has been paid for by Mexico. As the president has promised, all these dollars been paid for by the American taxpayer. This is a wall that will take hundreds of miles of property from ranchers and farmers. It will threaten the border ecosystem and cost nearly 25 million dollars per mile on average.

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When alternate technology solutions could be deployed at a much lower cost. I would also tell you that I've gotten I've had several people contact me, many people contact me on this wall on the southern border and how it's going to impact agriculture. I'm forwarding you one of those e-mails that was sent to me from a Trump supporter on the southern border who's having the ranch literally cut in half by this wall if it goes up. We still don't have a plan that explains how this funding will be used.

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The last border wall plan DHS submitted is out of date and the GEO. The Government Accountability Office criticized as being incomplete and lacking in several key areas further. Two weeks ago, FBI director Christopher Wray testified before Congress. Congress, he said, we face a diverse, increasingly dangerous terrorism threat and that the threat is unrelenting. He mentioned the particular concern of domestic terrorism carried out by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists. He also mentioned the growing sophistication in cyber intrusions in state sponsored espionage against our economy and our elections.

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A border wall across the southern border addresses none of the concerns that FBI director raised as serious threats to our homeland. Now, while I'm a strong supporter of border security, the actions taken by this administration to inflame the partisan divide do not make us safer and make it exceptionally difficult to get things done here in Congress. The recent deployment of special border operation forces to the interior of the country and the recent decision to deny residents of New York participation in DHS trusted traveler programs come to mind as recent examples of where the resources are being used to protect the country or solely to make political points.

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The bottom line for me as ranking member of this committee is to ensure that we're investing hard earned taxpayer dollars in programs that address the most serious threats to our country, not empty campaign promises. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention security along our northern border. Last year we received the Northern Border Implementation Plan from DHS that lays out specific requirements across various DHS components to improve the department's ability to facilitate safe, secure and efficient flows of cross-border traffic and secure the northern border against threats.

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I we'll be seeking a commitment for you today. The sufficient resources are being dedicated. Do exactly that. Execute that plan in a timely manner. Mr. Acting Secretary. I look forward to your testimony is, as I said, a recent visit. Recent office visit. I'm here to work with you and hope we can find the common ground to fund national security investments that truly does make sense for the American people. Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, Senator Tester.

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And with that, we'll go to the testimony, the acting secretary. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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Chairman cappato, ranking member Tester and distinguished members of the subcommittee. It's a privilege to appear before you today discuss the Department of Homeland Security's mission to keep the nation safe and to present the president's fiscal year 21 budget for the department as acting secretary. My priorities are guided by determination to ensure DHS is robust, resilient and forward leaning, prepared to address the threats of today and those of tomorrow. Fiscal year 21 president's budget is not only a reflection of those priorities, but a path to achieving them.

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As the subcommittee knows, the Department of Homeland Security's mission spans air, land, sea and cyber domains and our workforce of two hundred and forty thousand strong stands. Watch for the nation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They safeguard the United States from terrorist adversaries and others who seek to do us harm. They also facilitate our lawful trade and travel, balancing security, security with the freedom of movement, with care and precision. Every day, as they often say, economic security is homeland security and in the department plays a critical role in this mission.

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President's budget ensures that our workforce has the resources it needs to execute these critical responsibilities. It includes forty nine point eight billion in net discretionary funding and an additional one billion for the disaster relief fund to support response to and recovery from disasters in the homeland. Our budget priorities remain consistent with recent years, which include securing our borders, enforcing our immigration laws, securing cyberspace and critical infrastructure, transportation security and American preparedness. Recognizing that the threats to the homeland or more dynamic than ever before, the budget also positions the department to respond to emerging threats, including those emanating from nation states.

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DHS is also helping to manage the U.S. government's response to the Corona virus. Today, the risks from Corona virus to Americans remains relatively low and we will continue to implement measures designed to keep it that way. DHS has responded with proactive safeguards, including directing all flights from China to preselected airports for medical screening. The department stood up that medical screening in a very rapid fashion, using contracts from our S.W.A.T office. And we continue to provide those contracts at those eleven airports.

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I'll now highlight a handful of specific priorities included in the fiscal 21. Budget Department must continue to grow our digital defense cyberspace as cybersecurity threats grow in scope and severity. Department maintains an enhanced posture on election security to preserve our electorial process and to secure our systems against interference of any kind. President's budget invests $1.7 billion in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to strengthen our cyber and infrastructure security mission. This is an increase of roughly one hundred and fifty million from the president's F 20 budget request.

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The security of our nation's border also remains a priority focus for the administration and the department. Most notably, as mentioned, the budget includes 2 billion for the construction of approximately 82 miles of new border wall system, as well as funding for additional technology and staffing. While securing our borders is utmost importance, the integrity of our immigration system requires that we enforce the law as written remains the priority of the department to protect our citizens by identifying, detaining and removing criminal aliens from the United States.

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Budget includes over 3 billion to ensure that our law enforcement officers have the resources they need to faithfully execute the law as true today as it was in the wake of 9/11. Counterterrorism remains a top focus for the department. Importantly, the president has increased funding for targeted violence and terrorism prevention programs by over 500 percent. In this budget, the 96 million in funding distributed across DHS components is critical to identifying at risk individuals and preventing their radicalization to violence. Budget also invest in modernizing the fleet for the United States.

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Coast Guard provides five hundred and fifty million for the funding for the to fund the construction of the second polar security cutter, which supports our national interest in the polar region. It also includes five hundred and sixty four million for the offshore off shore patrol cutter. Another critical capital investment for the Coast Guard. And while the physical capabilities and technology are important for the department, our greatest asset remains the men and women who execute our mission every day. As threats evolve and our capabilities grow, tremendous new talent is needed to execute our mission.

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For DHS, the budget provides funding for 500 new cybersecurity employees across the department. For CBP, 750 new Border Patrol agents, one hundred and twenty six new support staff and three hundred Border Patrol processing coordinators for ICE. Twenty eight hundred new law enforcement officers, approximately 400 or so new attorneys, and nearly fourteen hundred new support staff. And for TSA funding system to sustain roughly 47000 transportation security officers to match the pace and passenger growth over the next year.

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It also provides funding for an overall pay increase for DHS employees, including a 3 percent increase for our uniformed Coast Guard men and women. These priorities are only a few included in the budget, and DHS has gone to one of the most diverse and complex mission sets in all of government. And I continue to be amazed by the professionalism and dedication of the men and women at the department. Their commitment to our mission is beyond reproach. We should all sleep better at night knowing that they are on duty.

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Therefore, I ask your support in providing them the resources they need to keep the American people in our homeland safe and secure through the president's F.Y.I 21 budget request. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and look forward to the questions.

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Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm going to begin by going to cybersecurity because I'm very concerned in the budget. You mentioned in your in your testimony that the that the president's budget request is more than what the president requested last year. But in effect, it's about $250 million less than what this Congress enacted in cybersecurity. How do you account for that, despite, you know, taking your own testimony at the urgency of so cybersecurity and how it's growing?

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How do you how are you justifying a $250 million cut to an area that's so critical?

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So do a couple different factors at play. One is the process and the timeline of which when the budget was created, obviously it was it was created well before we received our funding last year. But what I would say is obviously weren't an election year this year. So the plus up from Congress and again, thank you for that. Provides us enough resources. As we look at 21, which is an off election year, the budget request fully funds what system needs to continue to provide that election security resource.

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And again, watching security was called out specifically in system's budget as a line item. A lot of what they do throughout this plays in and contributes to a lot of the resources and services they provide to election state officials as well as well as our political campaigns. So is what you're saying is that the 250 million dollar differences is the election security piece? Is that how I'm hearing that?

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No, not specifically. There is a reduction from our 21 requests from what was enacted in 20. What I can tell you is, again, in F.Y.I, 20 again, that's our election year. So we're doing a lot more activities this year. And as we as we look, 21 will sustain that in the budget that we requested for 21 will sustain those activities. Well, I would note also that you are canceling the CFS program at the same time, which is part of that reduction as well.

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The other thing I would note is that just because this is an election year doesn't mean elections stop as we go past November of 2020. This is gonna be an ongoing responsibility of you and others within the administration. Let me ask about the border wall, because that's obviously a source of interest. Can you tell us you're asking for enough to build another one hundred? Well, no. Currently, 126 miles of currently been built to date of the money that's been previously, previously provided for.

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What are the new capabilities as a result of this of what are you seeing as the next two billion dollars and how how will that affect this border wall system?

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Sure. Chairman, as you indicated, we have about a hundred and twenty six that are completed. We have another two hundred and thirteen that are currently under construction or 30 miles currently under construction, and another four hundred and fourteen under pre-construction. The pre-construction phase capabilities, as I often talk about, are night and day over the existing Landi Matt 1970s Air Landi, Matt fence that the Border Patrol has. So new capabilities include not only the physical infrastructure, but lights, cameras, radars, fiber optics, the impedance and denial that the new border wall system provides to Border Patrol agents.

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Again, it's night and day to what they previously had. So as I toured the border and as I go down there and talk to our men and women in green, I ask them what do they need to secure the border resources, technology and then obviously the staffing. So it's a sort of a three legged stool. But when we talk about technology, the first thing that they they ask for is an effective border wall system that again, provides that impedance denial so that they can respond in a timely manner and then apprehend those that are looking to get in the processing agents that we provided for.

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And I might have the incorrect name there, but you know what I'm talking about the border patrol that we provided for in the last in the last budget was kind of a new concept for the department, partly to alleviate what our border agents were doing. Border Patrol agents were doing in lieu of their frontline job of law enforcement, maybe transportation or other health care or something of that nature. And also to be part of a recruiting tool to maybe get folks involved in the Border Patrol so that they may want to advance to different areas of border patrol.

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How many people have you hired into that and what's been the success of that? I mean, I know it's been a short period of time, but because you're asking for more in this budget. Thank you for that. Thank you for Congress for providing that. Let me get back to you on an exact number of our hiring to date. I will say that those positions are absolutely critical. It goes towards retention. It goes towards recruitment. When you have Border Patrol agents that are fully trained to do their mission on the border, but are instead at hospitals or handing out food or doing things that they normally they didn't sign up to do.

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They're certainly not trained. I do.

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But do you. You don't know if you have any have hired any into that. We have a good unit. I don't have the exact number of those three. Find it. We want to make sure that you're actually you're right. This minute problem for the department hiring into certain positions. So I think we need to carefully watch that. Ask one more question and then move on. I really want to ask about soft sided facilities. I'm gonna ask about Corona virus.

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I'll get another chance to ask about the soft sided facilities. This is a source of great concern of so many people. I mean, I'm sure you all as you're walking around your respective states, people are asking all the time, what are we doing? How are we? Are we on top of this? You mentioned I guess there was a briefing this morning. Was that basically told us that it's going to come more broadly to the United States, which I think we all expect.

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But can you can you tell us how you're working on on the Corona virus and with who? What other coordinating entities?

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Thank you. As you mentioned, the task force, again, led by HHS, did brief members of Congress this morning. I will say that we're working hand-in-hand every day with that task force from the department's perspective. We are taking the direction from the medical professionals at HHS as they lay out a medical strategy to deal with the Corona virus. We are implementing measures to support that. So particular in the airport environment, the seaport environment, as well as land ports of entry.

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We're making sure that the measures we put in place, the medical screening that we put in place, are there for the protection of the American people. And that's really what the president has has asked us to lean into. As of today, we have about 15 cases that we've identified coming in from China that separate from those on cruise ships that have been parked overseas. So we feel like, again, the threat right now remains low as we talked to CDC and others.

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I think they continue to expect the number of cases in the U.S. to increase. I will say over the last several weeks, those it really has not increased. It's remained relatively flat between 12 and 14 cases. So the department feels very comfortable on the measures that we've put in place. But again, CDC continues to adopt their medical strategy.

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The department will adopt its it's operational presently idea, the resources you need to move forward. We do.

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So we continue to look at that going to very close bases. We report every week to OMB on those resources. Right now we have them within our existing budget. We will likely have to move some money around this year. Right. To adjust for that right now. But we'll certainly be in contact with you and other members of the committee as well as OMB if we need additional or supplemental funding.

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Thank you, Senator Tester. Sara Leahy, thank you, Senator Tester, and thank you, Madam Chair. Housing secretary will walk on. I would echo what Senator Tester said. I appreciate your service. I regret that you're one of the very, very many positions in this administration which we should be speaking to somebody actually confirmed by the Senate. Is the most active positions I've seen in my decades in the Senate. Now. President might appreciate facsimile active secretary he's given.

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I prefer the constitutional checks and balances. Now you talk a little bit about the border. President has raised billions. Of congressionally appropriated dollars from critical defense projects to fund the border wall, including money to clean up housing for service members from within, for mold to land to help and their children. We've seen reports it can be defeated. These you could go get a hundred are cordless sore from departments are in the El Paso sector. And I've been down there and visited border agents have even found a large number of $5 rebar ladders, which you use more and more high, more made five door ladders.

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One hundred dollar. Cordner size have been used to defeat the. I ducked center, I don't have that. I don't know. We don't see a number of attempts to defeat the border wall system in a number of locations outside of El Paso across the whole southwest border. So the adversary's will continue to try to find innovative ways to cross the border. Let's do it together, cordon a_s_r_ and get a five dollar river line. That's not very innovative, is it?

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I would say no, that that can be found at probably any hardware store. And do we have numbers? How many times has been done in the past?

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I'm sure we can find those numbers again. What we see as largely is from that 1970s era math where it's about eight feet high. You can get a ladder on or you can actually jump over that wall.

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So we've seen a lot of ladders that we're trying to you know, many in the past year, in the past year, we'll get that information for a border patrol. We'll have that. OK. How many tunnels? I'm sorry? How many tunnels have been discovered? That's probably on in the single digits. But we continue to invest in technology that will look for tunneling as well. Well, then, will you let me know the number of devices in the tapes have been discovered by CVP that used to defeat the law?

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Yes, Senator, we'll take that. Everyone can expect the first accounting of these numbers.

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I'll get the CBP today and we'll we'll provide you numbers as quickly as possible. Thank you. We're told by the Drug Enforcement Administration is kind of a drug assessment. They keep telling us as the most common method for transporting illicit drugs into the U.S. is through the ports of entry. Now, they've been increasing, you know, they've increased in the. It's use of drive through the scanners at ports of entry. Do you know the approximate percentage of passenger and commercial vehicles they're scanning across ports of entry along the southwest border?

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Right now, it's about 1 percent of passenger vehicles and about 50 percent of commercial vehicles. I will say that Congress and F.Y.I 19 and F.Y.I 20 did provide a number of funding for our in II technology that would screen for narcotics. And so the goal by 2023 is to increase from 4 passenger vehicles from 1 percent to 40 percent using that funding that Congress provided and then for commercial vehicles from 15 percent to 72 percent. And one of the most recent statistics to the.

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Percentage of hard narcotics. That's amphetamine, heroin. They're apprehended between ports of entry compared to at ports.

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So roughly we see the majority of narcotics coming through the ports of entry. We we will interdict those about two thirds of the time. But one third is coming between ports of entry. But over the last fiscal year, we have seen an increase of those narcotics to include the wide range of narcotics between ports of entry. So we're growing concerned about that as well.

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The DHS has continued to cannibalize funds, mother credit card accounts to fund more detention beds. So you have a concern ballooning of ICE's detention capacity, crowds, Congress appropriations decision, for example, the roughly 40 thousand individuals currently detained by ICE, nearly 8000 are asylum seekers who have demonstrated a 20 percent credible fear of persecution and torture. Roughly what percentage? My last question. My time is up roughly what percentage of these eight thousand individuals have committed serious criminal offenses, such as they'd be a public safety risk if they were released.

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And how much does it cost to detain those eight thousand individuals every day? Senator, I don't have that exact eight thousand figure. What I can tell you is that ice on any given day continues to prioritize the removal of criminals from our communities. So it's about eighty nine percent between eighty seven and eighty nine percent of the amount of individuals they remove every year. They're criminals. Those on final orders of removal or have criminal arrest of some kind. So we'll continue to prioritize removing criminals communities.

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But they do have a wide they have a wide mission. So they're enforcing immigration law at the border, in the interior and elsewhere.

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But, General, let me know how much it costs to. Detain. Eight thousand who are asylum seekers. Yes, Senator. We'll take that for the record either for his house. I'd like that within the week if we could. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Senator Kennedy. Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for being here. How many cases of Corona virus do we have right now in the United States?

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Well, we have 14 cases plus an additional I believe it's 20 or 30 some cases that we have repatriated back into the U.S. from a number of cruise ships.

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And how many are you anticipating? Again, we're working with HHS to determine that. How many are you in? We do anticipate the number will grow. I do. I don't have an exact figure for you, though.

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You have an estimate. Someone is someone modeling that.

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Do you have any way of guessing, again, HHS through their medical professionals. But you're head of homeland security there. Your job is to keep us safe. Yes, sir. Do you know today how many the experts are predicting?

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Only we only know that. Again, we anticipate those numbers to grow in the U.S. That's why we're making sure that our operations, again, at our airports, land, ports and elsewhere are flexible.

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And you can't tell us how many your models are anticipating. No, Senator. Again, I would I would refer you to the Health and Human Services for that. So you say you got a check on that? We will as the head of homeland security. Absolutely. And again, we have task force members that are working this on every day. I'm all for committees and task. So we're coordinating with them to make sure that our operations secretary.

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I think you ought to know that answer. I understand that. How is how is the current advice track Corona coronavirus transmitted through a variety of ways? Obviously human to human. We've seen that and again, we're making sure that those procedures as they come into the U.S. are medically screened so that we can identify those. How is it transmitted? A variety of different ways. And tell me what they are. But again, human to human is what we've got.

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I'm listening to him on how. Being in the same vicinity. Physical contact is usually what we've seen from the medical cases that we've seen here in the US. We've had several, I think two to three human to human cases that have showed up here in the US. So it's those that are closest to those individuals that have that human contact. What's the mortality rate so far? Nationwide, I believe it, worldwide, worldwide. I believe it's under 2 percent.

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How much under 2 percent. I'll get you an exact figure. I'll check with CDC on their monitoring, the worldwide mortality rate. And I will. I can get that for you. But you don't know the mortality rate today. It changes daily, Senator. Well, I understand that given about the average since we discovered the virus, again, it's under 2 percent. It was as high as three numbers were recalculated based on reporting it. I know when one and a half and two, it's between one and a half and two percent.

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OK, what's the mortality rate for influenza A, the last, say, 10 years in America?

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It's also right around that percentage as well. I don't have that offhand, but it's about 2 percent as well. You're sure that it's a little bit? Yes, sir. OK. Do we have enough respirators? To my knowledge, we do. I'm focused on making sure that our operators at DHS make sure that they have the protective equipment. I know HHS is part of the supplemental.

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We just heard testimony that we don't. Testimony from a briefing. Should your head all works for medical professionals or for four? Sorry, don't head of homeland security. Do we have enough respirators or not? For patients, I don't understand the question for everybody, every American who needs one who gets the disease.

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Again, I would refer you to HHS on that secretary budget. So your word is supposed to keep us safe. Budget supports the men and women who are the subject of hawary of your homeland security. Yes, sir. And you can't tell me if we have enough respirators. What I would tell you is that the budget, my budget, our operations are focused not only on the men and women of DHS making sure they're protected to do their jobs, to screen individuals coming in.

[00:35:34.06]
We're working with HHS now in their budget. The answer is to ensure that they have enough medical do they have enough face masks? We for the Department of Homeland Security were not asking for the Department of Homeland. Are you looking ask him for the American people or for the entire American public? Yes. No. I would say probably not. OK. Have short R-WY. I don't have that number offhand, Senator. I will get that for you.

[00:35:56.05]
Okay. But but I want to be sure I understand you somebody. Yes, sir. Is doing modeling. Yes, sir. On how many cases were anticipated? Yes. I was not aware of that. You're asking me a number of medical questions that I'm asking you. Question HHS secretary of our development on homeland security. And you're supposed to keep us safe. Yes, sir. And you need to know the answers to these questions. And how far away?

[00:36:21.01]
Away from getting a vaccine in several months. Well, that's not what we just heard testimony about. OK. Who's on first here? HHS is Lutsen Central Agency for the Corona virus response.

[00:36:36.06]
You you're telling me we're months away. From having a vaccine and that your testimony is chair as secretary of homeland security, what I have been told by HHS and CDC. Yes. And you have you probed that to make sure that's accurate? Yes.

[00:36:50.08]
We continue every day. We have task force meetings with those individuals and elsewhere talking about a number of these.

[00:36:57.00]
Well, your numbers aren't the same as CDC. Then I would I would certainly defer to CDC on our medical questions.

[00:37:03.03]
What don't you think he ought to contact him and find out whether you're right or we're in? Right. We're in contact with him every day on this day on our task force. But you don't know why you have a discrepancy. I would refer you to the CDC. Its messaging. I sure am gonna hush here. You're you're supposed to keep us safe. And the American people deserve some straight answers on the Corona virus. And getting them from you.

[00:37:28.08]
I disrupt. Wahhab Madam Chair. Senator Shaheen. Thank you, Madam Chairman and Acting Secretary Wolf. Thank you for being here. I would like to just pick up a little bit on the Corona virus, because we did have a briefing this morning. And I would like to urge the department and the other officials within the government to have some open briefings. I didn't hear anything this morning that I haven't read the newspaper. And I think it would be very helpful to the American public to have a better sense of what's going on with this issue.

[00:38:01.08]
And also. Tests try and post some information that could answer questions for the public. I've met with some constituents after that briefing, and that's one of the things that I heard from them, is that they don't have the information that they would like to have to share with their employees and to try and do what's right. In response to this emergency medical emergency. I would now like to go to border security and the devastating opioid epidemic. New Hampshire, like West Virginia, has been very hard hit and we've seen some small progress thanks to the bipartisan support for funding that has provided significant increases for technology, for drug interdiction to support treatment.

[00:38:52.04]
But I'm concerned that what we need to do to interdict fentanyl and other drugs is more than just build a wall. I think there are more effective ways to address that interdiction. And so I wonder if you can discuss the department's progress in deploying additional chemical screening devices to detect fentanyl. It was required under the INTERDICT Act and also to obtain the advanced data on international mails shipments that were required by the STOP Act.

[00:39:22.05]
Can you tell us where we are in the department's efforts again on to address the opioid crisis? We are multifaceted from CBP on the interdiction side, and we've talked a little bit about the NIAID and other technology that we have out there. We're continuing to work with the postal service to target shipments and then looking at technology that will screen those shipments as well. Of course, ICE Homeland Security investigations certainly has a role here in investigating these seizures. Every time we make it to a seizure, we turn those over to investigators.

[00:39:51.07]
They'll investigate. And of course, DOJ will help us prosecute those as well. And of course, S.A., we continue to have money. I believe we had money in Y20 about $8 million. So similar requests for F.Y.I 21 to further enhance the technology that we have out there so that they can find smaller and smaller amounts of fentanyl and opioids and the like across the spectrum. And when do you expect both of those, the full implementation to address what's in those lost to be completed?

[00:40:23.06]
That's a good question. Let me let me take that one. We do have a timeline. I don't have the exact date on full implementation of all of those efforts, but I'm sure CBP certainly does. Who is the lead component that's working this?

[00:40:37.06]
And are we doing any cost effective analysis to see what's what makes more sense in terms of stopping drugs from coming into the United States? Is it a wall or is it these kinds of interdiction efforts that use technology? I will just ask you to also, Shapps, sadly, when you respond. Absolutely.

[00:40:54.02]
I mean, from a holistic view, it's all of the above. Again, as I mentioned earlier, about two thirds of the opioids that we do detect come through ports of entry. And again, that's whether it's an airport of entry or land port of entry. So we're focused again on the funding that Congress provided. Again, thank you for that. The point small, medium and large amounts of the NIH technology, that's that's everything from a handheld to something that screens a vehicle, making sure that we deploy that in rapid fashion.

[00:41:23.01]
I would like to switch topics now to the H to B visa program, because that's been a critical program to help small businesses in New Hampshire, particularly those who employ seasonal workers. Our tourism industry are lodging the restaurant industry landscapers. Making those new visas available is very important. I was pleased to see that there was an announcement that the visas will be increased. Can you talk about how soon those visas are going to be released and whether that's all going to be at the same time because the summer season is fast approaching?

[00:42:00.00]
I would say as of right now, no decision has been made about the supplemental H2B cap increase. I again would urge Congress you are in the best position to identify how many visas that program needs for the fourth year in a row. The department's been given that duty to coordinate with the secretary of labor. We've been doing that. But again, I would encourage Congress to pick the overall number for the H-2B.

[00:42:22.07]
While I can tell you, I've been on multiple letters that are bipartisan saying you need to increase that cap and pointing out past years when the cap has been increased and how effectively they've been used. So I don't think the problem is at Congress. I think the problem is at the administration level. And if it's not your department, who needs to make that decision, then you need to tell us who is making that decision. Because I've got a whole bunch of small businesses in New Hampshire who are going to be able to do their business this summer if they don't have those workers.

[00:42:54.00]
The reason I say it's it's better fit for Congress's either side. I believe it gives industry predictability. They'll know each and every year how many visas they have to work with and we'll play in their. Accordingly, every time you give it to the department, we'll continue to do our work and I won't. And I'll outline what we've done thus far. It takes time to make that decision. Then, of course, we have to publish a rulemaking to do that.

[00:43:14.09]
So it continues to increase the time before the visas get out there. I will say I've talked with Secretary Scalia, the Department of Labor, six times over the past three or four weeks, coming up with a solution, coming up with a proposal. We hope to announce that very shortly and we'll continue to push that decision. What I will say is it's not only a number, but it's also looking at the fraud and the abuse in the program, which the Department of Homeland Security is certainly concerned about.

[00:43:40.09]
So if we do reach out and increase, you also see a number of provisions there that get to that waste, abuse and the fraud that I believe members of Congress on a bipartisan basis have expressed concern with as well. But I I share your sense of urgency, Senator. I just wanna make that clear. I'm pushing as quickly as we can to make a decision and then hopefully announce that decision before any rulemaking is finalized so that the industry knows how many visas to work with and can again plan their businesses accordingly.

[00:44:11.03]
Thank you, Senator Hoven. Thank you, Madam Chair and secretary, well, thanks for being here. Appreciate you and we appreciate the work that you do on border security. Well, let me ask just one first. In terms of counter U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles. The budget request includes $35 million for DHS science and technology. That's up from 13 million in F.Y.I 20. Tell me how that money is going to be spent on U.S., William. So that's primarily on research, development and testing of U.A.

[00:44:52.04]
, countering UARS capabilities. So the department has some limited jurisdiction and capabilities. We continue to explore that. That's mainly for DHS facilities. We are working with the Department of Defense, FAA, Department of Transportation and others, as well as Secret Service has been using counter UARS technology for some time. So we're we're trying to capitalize on on their experience and what they've seen. And then S.A. is building on that with additional research, development and testing to hopefully have capabilities out there in the short term.

[00:45:25.02]
But I know you're busy on the southern border and obviously coronavirus and all these important issues. But I would like you to come to the northern border. Grand Forks, North Dakota, as responsibile for 900 miles of border. That station all the way from the Great Lakes out through most of Montana. Right. We also have a very large U.S. operation. We have the Northern Plains test site there. We use I've been there, Senator. Okay, I have.

[00:45:48.03]
Great. We'd love you to come back now that you're secretary. All right. And you can come to Montana, too. And you, guy.

[00:45:54.01]
Absolutely. Tester has got a beautiful state. He'd love to have you check it out, Montana as well. But we'd like you to come back. And she's happy to do that. We think we can help help you with your all your Borst scooty operation. I believe it was a test site in conjunction with North Dakota State University and University of North. Yeah. We have a very large aviation school there. We were we were there in late 2018.

[00:46:18.03]
I believe. Fantastic. Did you come with macaloon or with Secretary Nielsen? Oh, okay. Great. Great. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I remember that visit. I'm sorry. I forgot you were with us, but I appreciate it. I'm glad you've seen it. We continue make progress. And once you come back. Tell me a little bit about autonomous surveillance towers. So that's a piece of Border Patrol technology that's absolutely critical. We talk about securing the border.

[00:46:45.07]
We do it through technology. We do it through physical infrastructure. And then, of course, people so the autonomous surveillance towers are that that other piece of critical technology. So I believe we have up to 200 towers that we're looking to deploy. These are relocatable. So you can position them. They run off of self-supported power, mainly sunlight. And so they provide a capability, domain awareness capability for the border patrol that improves upon some of the towers that they previously have out there.

[00:47:14.04]
So we look forward. We're very excited about the capabilities that that provides them and make it a program of record and expand it.

[00:47:21.07]
Or are you still going through that process to make that determination? That's a continuing discussion that we have with CBP. But again, we'd like with the capabilities that those towers provide and we'll continue to deploy them. Real I.D. I just went through that process and got my real I.D. and you got it. I mean, it's quite a bit fortunate in our state. They're on top of it. And, you know, if you get the four different types of required documentation, so on and so forth, go and get it.

[00:47:49.09]
Tell me, you know, by October 1, folks are going to have to have that go to. Right. Get on an airplane. What's going to happen when somebody shows up? Any idea isn't real I.D.? Well, thank you. TSA. Yeah, thank you for the question. This is continues to be a issuing program because in our mind, the states have had over 14 years to phase this in. The law passed in 2006. And so we encourage states to invest in the majority of them have.

[00:48:18.07]
We have. All states are compliant. All but two are issuing real I.D. at the moment. We would like them to go faster. I think they would like to go faster. So we continue to have that dialogue with them. What we see today, though, is today we have about 35 percent of IEDs in circulation. Are Real I.D. compliant. So that's a relative 35, around 35 percent. So that's a relatively low number as you look at mine.

[00:48:40.06]
So it's like 35 percent plus one. Yes, sir. As you it's relatively low number as you look at October 2020. So we're doing a number of things, engaging the industry. We've just issued a policy adjustment that allows individuals seeking to come in for a real I.D. They could submit their documents electronically to the DMV and then that makes it easier as they go in. I will say that the original law that Real I.D. passed is very restrictive for the department was passed in a time where there were no smartphones.

[00:49:08.06]
It was flip phones. And so this idea of transmitting information securely versus coming in with. The information is a real challenge. That's where you see a lot of the bottlenecks at DMD and a capacity issue. Yeah, but the thing that's that I'm suggesting to you is come October 1, you're going have a lot of people show up at TSA and they're going to want to get on an aircraft and they're gonna show their driver's license and they won't have their passport.

[00:49:32.05]
They won't have something else. And now they're going to say, hey, but I got to get on my flight. So that's going to happen. You know what's going to happen? And so, yeah, it's incumbent on the states to get out. I think they're trying. I'm just saying for TSA as a organization, you're good. You're certainly planning. Yeah, you're planning for it. I need some contingency, a variety of eventualities. We are trying to also educate the public so you can certainly have a real I.D.

[00:49:54.07]
, compliant I.D. but there's other alternative forms of I.D. that you can have as well, military I.D., a passport as well as a number of others. So we continue to try to educate the American people and the traveling public on what type of ID they need come October. Our partners in the airline industry, airline associations, travel associations, are also pushing out a lot of useful information as well.

[00:50:16.05]
Just final question. Back to Corona virus. Do you feel you've got adequate screening in place now for people coming into this?

[00:50:23.04]
We do. We do. We we again, we have eleven airports that we prescreening folks at to date since those measures were in place, DHS, CBP see WMD. We screened over 50000 individuals coming into the US and that's just it at airports. We're also screening folks at land ports of entry as well as maritime ports of entry. Is it fair to say that your message to the public then is that you feel you do have? Absolutely. We I have all the information I need from CDC and HHS on a daily basis to make operational decisions to determine whether we're keeping the American public safe.

[00:50:58.06]
And absolutely threat remains low. And we'll just those measures as the CDC and HHS directs us to. But as of today, I'm I'm very satisfied on the measures that the department has taken. Thank you, Securer. Appreciate it.

[00:51:11.00]
Thank you, Senator Tester. Yeah. Thank you, Chairman. Chairwoman cappato, I want to first talk about the war budget for second, two billion dollars in additional dollars, additional money for construction. And quite frankly, the last border security improvement plan we had, as I said, was two years ago, it was criticized by some of us and by GEO. We keep hearing that another plan is coming.

[00:51:38.02]
It is when I would say in the next several months, it's currently in review at the department and is being finalized. So can you.

[00:51:45.07]
Can you give me a if it isn't here by like the first of June, should we be calling in front the committee and breaking over the calls of the first of May or the.

[00:51:53.07]
I think that's fair. I think a June deadline I would put. I will push personally to get it. Before that, we have it. And if you've been finalized or it's being finalized and if you get it quicker than that, I mean, we're talking.

[00:52:05.00]
I misspoke. It's only fifteen point one eight five billion dollars for the wall. Yeah, that's a huge amount of money. And we need to we need to have a plan that needs to be a good one better than the last one. Last week, you announced a plan to expedite the border wall construction by waiving 10 federal procurement laws for several sectors where the border wall is being planned. This will eliminate the full and open competition process and eliminate the requirement for contractors with cost and pricing data.

[00:52:39.05]
Provide a bond guarantee wage payments, eliminate the bid price brought to the bid protest process. We're talking about we're talking about $17 billion that this budget goes through as advertised. How can we protect the American taxpayer if these procurement laws are waived so the design.

[00:53:05.07]
The concept behind waiving that that specific waiver was to reduce the length of time between a war duck got attraction, I understand. So we thought was there there for a reason. And by the way, this argument could be made for building the the polar cutter, the C-130's, whatever it could be.

[00:53:24.05]
So the funding that the Army Corps will get will continue to go to vetted and qualified applicants that are currently on contract with the Army Corps or those that are on a larger task order 15000 here. Doesn't your procurement law eliminate any bidding, any protest? So the question is, how do we hold these folks accountable if they get a sweetheart deal?

[00:53:44.08]
Again, they've already been pre-qualified. They've already determined contracts there. Most of them are already building the border wall system to day. So the idea is to again add onto those contracts as that additional wall and that additional property become available. So, again, these contractors have been vetted. They've gone through that contracting process. They hold the task order with the army. So you have a Marine I.D., IQ, have a list of contractors and yes, then that's going to earn it is classified as small businesses.

[00:54:12.07]
I believe there is. There you go. Could you give me that list? Because the procurement also waives a provision that provides opportunities for small businesses. And I would love to I'd love to have that, because, I mean, the procurement, is it a pain in the neck? You have to jump through hoops. Yep. It's tough, but they're there for a reason. And they're there to make sure that we hold our contractors accountable and that the taxpayer dollars.

[00:54:38.01]
I get it. You want to get it built? You want to get it built quickly. Right. But you still have to do certain things and have to do it right. Otherwise, after it's built in the time the dollars have been spent and it wasn't the best value. I question, is it too late then? Right. Yes, center. I don't believe it is. So, again, we continue to work with the Army Corps of Engineers, making sure that they're vetted contractors.

[00:55:03.09]
Their task orders in the I.T. I.Q.s they hold that are gonna get the best value for the American taxpayer.

[00:55:09.06]
So from from my math, about two hundred thirty five miles will be need needed to be acquired from private lenders or private holdings. They have landowner's been contacted. They have. And how many have have given you permission to access their property for a while?

[00:55:31.03]
Well, again, it's a it's certainly a complex procedure anywhere from the title search. I got it survey.

[00:55:36.06]
The question is, is that if you come on my land and you use eminent domain. So we those are fighting words.

[00:55:42.08]
Yes, Senator. Again, we survey before we ever get to the combination part. You know, where we at or have we have a number of landowners have allowed us on land to survey. There are some that have not. We continue to work with them. Again, the Army Corps, through their contractors are doing that. Ely RGV sector.

[00:56:00.09]
Have you exercised any eminent domain as of yet?

[00:56:04.01]
The Army Corps has. I believe in just a small handful of cases. I would love to know where they're at. And I would love to know what transpired. And I will tell you, look, I mean, I was I'm on the northern border. I'm not right on the border. I'm about 80 miles south. But but the truth is, I have a certain amount of empathy for those folks who may have their farm or ranch split in half or even a quarter section peeled off due to this wall.

[00:56:28.03]
It it in the wall may take I don't know how many feet take half a mile. It's a little less. There's an exclusion zone, there's the physical building of the wall. The fact is it could have impacts for a much greater area than that. And as my understanding, there's a ton of lawsuits and maybe you know this from from the last time. There's just wondering, the Bush administration haven't had those lawsuits on eminent domain are still outstanding.

[00:56:53.08]
I don't know how many are still outstanding. I would never lie. This is really an important now that we've obviously have property rights in a number of times regarding the board. I mean, no, look at the letter. You're gonna get a letter from a lady. And I just sent it to the chairman from a lady there, Micheli Kimbrel, that this ranch is gonna be split by a wall who's very concerned. And by the way, she's a rock ribbed Republican.

[00:57:13.09]
She supported Trump. I understand. And they're very, very worried about the impact this is gonna have on on the farm. I'll yield for now.

[00:57:23.07]
Sarah Lankford, thank you, Chad. Thanks for being here. Thanks for the work that you do. You're covering a lot of issues today as you do on a normal day, from Corona virus to border security to all sorts of law enforcement issues, to election security, to security at infrastructure facilities, you've got a lot on your plate. So I appreciate the work that you do in the professionals that work around you. And you have thousands of folks on the team.

[00:57:47.08]
So tell them thank you from all of us and for what they do. I want to run through multiple different issues here. But let me start with methamphetamine and through phenol and other opioids that are coming through our southern border into United States. We've talked a lot about the technology. I've met with some companies recently in Oklahoma that are doing a significant amount of research on handheld devices to be able to help detect phenol and other other illegal substances coming across our southern border.

[00:58:15.03]
There's a lot of dialogue about what you have already put into place in technology, but it's always interesting me. Almost everyone I've talked to on technology says we're trying to get as good as a dog's nose. So let me ask you the odd question with this on what's happening in our ports of entry and other locations, how are we doing getting more dogs noses there as we're trying to be able to work towards getting more technology that's almost as good as a dog's nose in this process.

[00:58:41.00]
Are we increasing our dog sniffing presence in all these locations? How are we doing adding technology to be able to line up with that as well? So it's all of the above. Senator, we're certainly looking at the technology again that people canine assets as well. As we mentioned earlier in the hearing, about two thirds of the illicit drugs that we see, the opioids, the fentanyl, but also marijuana, all of the narcotics are coming through our ports of entry.

[00:59:05.01]
About one third is between our ports of entry and that number is rising. So we're concerned about that as well. So we have a number of investments have been made by Congress in F.Y.I, 19 and 20 for that NIIT technology. We'll continue to invest in our canine workforce. Will that be able to be implemented by the end of this fiscal year? When do you think that funding will be fully rolled out? Yeah. So the funding for the NIH technology will be over multiple years.

[00:59:28.01]
So some of the 19 money will will be implemented in this year and some of the 20 money will continue to be rolled out. That is a couple of year of money versus one year money. It's a large technology contract. So, yes, it is. It's a significant task and it's extremely important to us, every one of our states and your hometown, as well as all affected by fentanyl and opioids and methamphetamine coming in. So the faster we can roll that out and be able to be engaged in that, the better to be able to help cut off the flow of some of these drugs coming into the United States.

[00:59:58.09]
I appreciate all you're doing. There's been a lot of conversation about ice detention beds as well. I've been on the southern border. You've been on the southern border a lot. The soft sided facilities that CBP has put into place because there weren't enough ice beds cost a tremendous amount of money. How is it going in balancing out better quality ice beds at a lower price than CBP having to do more expensive, temporary, soft sided facilities to be able to handle individuals coming across the border?

[01:00:24.04]
I think our idea is to get out of the soft sided facility business. So obviously we we did that because of the surge last year again. Thank you for Congress providing those resources to do that. What we've seen as the numbers have decreased over the last several months, we're able to take a number of those soft sided facilities offline and again, continue to save money. So we've taken one facility offline. We're taking another three offline in the coming months, assuming our numbers continue to hold.

[01:00:51.02]
And that'll be about a $20 million savings per month as we continue to take those off line. So it is the goal at some point if there's a surge, again, to be able to surge into ice facilities or to surge back. And what we're what we're trying to do is to move some of these soft sided facilities into hard fight, hard sited facilities. So we do need that capacity, that surge capacity on the on on the southwest border.

[01:01:10.01]
We would like that to be in a hard sited facility versus soft sited over time. Those are more cost effective. And so we'll continue for as far as ice beds, though, we do a number of modeling, most of which we share with the committee, almost all that we share with the committee. And we continue to see an increase in the beds that ice continues to need over time. And so as the surge occurred last year and we had we were releasing over hundred thousand.

[01:01:34.03]
Hundred and forty thousand and some months of individuals into the interior. There's a tale to that and that comes to ice doing there. They're in law enforcement mission inside the interior of the country. So again, as they focus their attention and resources on criminals and picking up those individuals that have a final order of removal and the like. We have over three million aliens on the non detained docket. A million of those have final orders of removal. That's all.

[01:01:59.01]
That's what ICE does. Right. And so as they pick those up, they need to have the ability to detain those individuals for a short period of time before we deport them or repatriate them. Let me make a couple of quick comment, Senator Shaheen, and mentioned before about the age to be visas. I know Congress had given authority to be able to double the number of visas. And that was congress' statement to say you can go up to twice as much, but you've got to be able to look at the Department of Labor and the numbers are there.

[01:02:24.01]
And now you've mentioned already that Congress is the best to be able to set that number. Congress has said they work with the Department of Labor and see what we need at this point. And you have the opportunity to go up to twice as many as you've done in the past. There was a Wall Street Journal story out last Friday saying that there is some conversation about there may be up to forty five thousand additional visas that may come online soon. That's not been released by your team yet.

[01:02:47.07]
I would just say if you're choosing to do that. Congress has already spoken into that to say you have permission to be able to do that number even higher than that even. But if you choose to be able to do that, do that as quickly as possible. If that stretches out into June and July before those actual releases come, that's too late for the season. And so trying to be able to get those done faster is better than slowly trying to be able to piece those out.

[01:03:11.04]
And if I can mention one other thing, if I can beg the indulgence here, the chairwoman on this, and that is this issue about RFRA and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the waiver that's being put in place for construction of the wall. I've been very confused by this because DHS has said we're waiving reference. We have authority to do that. When RFRA actually says you can't waive this unless Congress specifically states that it can't be waived. And this is gonna be a battle of the lawyers able to determine.

[01:03:38.00]
What I'm trying to figure out is why is there a need to even waive RFRA? Because as far as I can tell, there's never been a need to be able to waive that. So why preemptively say we're going to when there's not really a statement to say we waive religious freedom protections to be able to build a wall? Well, I've looked into that issue. Thank you, Senator. And I will say that in the last 12 or 13 waivers, I believe that we've signed have not waived RFRA.

[01:04:05.02]
Right. And so you have my commitment to making sure as we look at any waivers going forward, if that's put before me, I'm going ask a series of questions on specifically. Does this inhibit building the border wall system at any point? I think we oftentimes error on the side of caution on what we waive. And I think it's incumbent on the part of the department to ensure what we're waiving has a specific impact to the number of miles that are being built in that specific area.

[01:04:31.08]
As you know, the waivers are specific to specific sectors. And Miles, so it's incumbent upon us. But I will say the department has not waived that again in the last 12. Ninety three, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never been waived. And so I'd like to not have a first look in that. Understand? Thank you, Senator Baldwin. Thank you, Madam Chair. So, Acting Secretary Wolf, Executive Order 75 21 requires the U.S.

[01:05:03.08]
Coast Guard to conduct icebreaking operations to meet the reasonable demands of commerce. However, the Coast Guard's icebreaking fleet in the Great Lakes has declined from 14 to nine vessels over the past 40 years. And the region's economy has consequently lost billions of dollars in economic activity, particularly over the past seven years due to inadequate Coast Guard icebreaking resources. Now, I've asked the president to include funding to build a new Great Lakes icebreaker. But all I've heard back is that other Coast Guard needs are more important.

[01:05:48.08]
I would note that in your opening statement, you equated economic security and national security. The Coast Guard's fiscal year 21 request includes no funding for this new icebreaker. So I'm wondering how you can ignore the economic injury that is occurring in the upper Midwest and in particular, obviously, the Great Lakes region in in this budget.

[01:06:19.08]
So I've talked with the commandant about ah ah, icebreaker capability, not only in the polar region, but also in the Great Lakes. So I I certainly understand the concern that you have. I will say that for the Coast Guard, enough white 21, they have a number of priorities. Several of their priorities, as I mentioned, is that polar security cutter, which would be the number would be the second one, as well as the off shore patrol cutter, which really will become the backbone of what the Coast Guard does, again, off shore.

[01:06:49.05]
So those continue to be the priorities for the Coast Guard. Those are high capital investments. I will also say the readiness of the Coast Guard continues to be an issue as it does with all of our service agencies. So where you have a limited budget, you have to focus resources, as I mentioned at the onset. I've talked to the commandant about the icebreaking capabilities in the Great Lakes. He feels comfortable where they sit today. Obviously, the MCing all, but then they have a number of smaller vessels that provide some capability as well.

[01:07:19.02]
But we'll continue to have that dialogue. It's limited resources. We have to. We have to. And I'm fully supportive of the polar ice cutter. I would say the Makana is well over it. It's a very old and the cost of repair and the time out is very significant. But what I'm telling you is the Great Lakes region and indirectly, the entire upper Midwest is suffering because of the lack of ice breaking capacity economically. And this should be a priority, especially given your comments of equating economic security and and national security.

[01:08:04.01]
I want to switch topics. It's been more than a year since DHS began implementation of the migrant protection protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico policy, which keeps migrants in Mexico while they await their immigration hearings. The press and advocacy groups have documented widespread abuse of migrants returned to Mexico under MPP, including things like kidnapping, extortion and other violence. In December, I had an opportunity to travel to Tucson and Nogales, Arizona, to visit DHS and HHS facilities, as well as a private organization supporting migrants.

[01:08:47.05]
Service providers there told me that the migrants returned under MPP are easy targets for criminal organizations in Mexico and frankly in in the U.S. in part because they are readily identifiable, because CBP mandates that they remove their shoelaces when they are in custody and releases them without returning them. I found that sort of odd and surprising, but I heard it over and over again that if you see a family, none of whom have shoelaces on their shoes, you know that they are probably folks who have been recently released from custody and probably very vulnerable.

[01:09:34.00]
Your budget requests. One hundred and twenty six million dollars for MPP and claims that the program offers protections for vulnerable populations. In light of the many reports of abuse of these individuals, what steps is CBP? CBP taking to ensure that they are safe as they await their day? In court. Sure. So we're taking a number of steps regarding the MPP program. We had an independent team in the department to do a review of the MPP program. These are individuals that have little to do with immigration.

[01:10:07.05]
So they were coming to this system blind. So they recommended a number of recommendations. A number of steps to take. We're implementing some of those some of those that we had already considered. I will say we continue to work with the government of Mexico is a partner with us in this program. Did the Department of State. We have offered or we have offered we've provided up to 22 million dollars in funding to help them build out their shit shelter capability.

[01:10:34.04]
That includes security for those shelters, also of transportation funding. So we do a number of things again with our Department of State colleagues to make sure that the government, Mexico is fulfilling their requirements under this program to ensure that individuals in the MPP program, as they await their immigration court proceedings in Mexico, are in safe and secure shelters everyday aware of the shoelace policy. I'm aware of the shoelace policy as it pertains to being in CBP custody. I made a note of that to take a look as as we really that is a very simple thing to correct.

[01:11:07.00]
Right. Senator Howard-Smith, thank you, Madam Chairman and Acting Secretary Wolf. Just want to tell you how much we appreciate everything that you do and congratulate you on your new position. My home state of Mississippi is certainly grateful to the department for the responsiveness following emergencies and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina when that occurred. Mississippi is also proud of its long and storied shipbuilding traditions. We're proud of our support of the U.S. Coast Guard and gratified with the Coast Guard's recognition that you've given us of the strong work ethic and well-established excellence in shipbuilding.

[01:11:49.06]
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mississippians take great pride in their contributions to the Department of Homeland Security's mission and also our national security interest. And we're proud that one of our shipyards is constructing a new polar security cutter to aid in the security of our Arctic theater. And I certainly look forward to ensuring we provide the ships and other equipment our men and women in uniform desperately need that we do quite well. Mr. Secretary, as you've highlighted in your testimony, the Coast Guard is a unique component with advanced operational capabilities and multiple jurisdictional authorities enabling this service to carry out both law enforcement and national defense missions.

[01:12:34.04]
The Coast Guard seizes more drugs than all other federal agencies combined. For example, the Coast Guard cutter James recently returned from a two month deployment where it seized over 13000 pounds of narcotics in the past four years. The men and women of the Coast Guard have interdicted two million pounds of pure cocaine worth an estimated value of 26 billion dollars. Please describe the unique capabilities and authorities the Coast Guard provides for homeland and border security.

[01:13:08.09]
You're just two. I would say. Expand on your points about the interdiction of drugs at sea. Coast Guard if you have the ability to visit Giant ofSouth in Key West. And so that is a facility that's throughout the D.O.D. DHS. But a variety of different agencies are focused on that illicit drug traffic coming from South America, Central America into the U.S.. I am I'm proud to say that it's Coast Guard cutters that are providing that capability and that interdiction capability both in the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific.

[01:13:46.00]
And so it's using intelligence that we gather from a number of different agencies. But it's Coast Guard men and women on ships in the air, as well as CBP assets as well that are providing that interdiction of all the illicit drugs coming from South America as on a daily basis. So they have a law enforcement mission, as you indicated, that's a little different from D.O.D. mission. And so they are a natural partner to our D.O.D. assets looking to protect the homeland.

[01:14:16.01]
But they only they not only do that here at home, but they do that again away from the homeland in the eastern Pacific, in the Caribbean, as well as overseas, providing that law enforcement capability that D.O.D. needs. And switching to the national security arena last year. Coast Guard cutters Bartholet and Straten were deployed in support of the Indo-Pacific commanding commander and missions in support of the Department of Defense, efforts are becoming a very common occurrence. How has the department prioritize the Coast Guard's counter-drug and border security missions versus the demand signal by Coast Guard's assets in support of the combatant commanders?

[01:15:01.03]
It's certainly a balance. It's a delicate balance that the combatant has to do every every week and every month. So as a one of the service is coming out, the Coast Guard is happy to provide support to D.O.D. and serve along them. We have a number. We have about 2000, I believe, Coast Guard men and women that are deployed overseas in support of the various combatant commanders. You mentioned the Pacific, but also in the Middle East, Bahrain and elsewhere.

[01:15:28.07]
When we had issues flare up in Iraq and I ran at the beginning of the year, we had Coast Guard men and women deployed there in support of D.O.D. as well. So it's a balance. We certainly have to do their maritime mission here in the states, here in the homeland, the drug interdiction capabilities, they have many missions, but we're happy to support and serve alongside D.O.D. professionals overseas as well. Thank you, and it is very clear that it's a huge balance.

[01:15:57.07]
But thank you for what you do in addressing that. Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you. We've completed the senators that are here. Apparently, Senator Murkowski is on her way. And Senator Tester, I have some additional questions. So we'll go to around two. I just would like to make a comment on the opioid detection and how important that is. I was just down in southern West Virginia with the office of the head of the Office of Drug Control Policy, Jim Carroll.

[01:16:23.08]
It went to a drug court graduation. He announced it that at that graduation, because what we're seeing is our drug problem morphing from opioid prescription drugs to heroin and fentanyl to now synthetic methamphetamine. But he announced that at the border you had interdicted 432 packages with $18 million worth of methamphetamine. I think was a week ago Saturday. Eight hundred and seventy five pounds. And as I was reading the story, apparently one of the agents detected something said at a secondary screening and it was picked up on the non-intrusive inspection, hidden in a bunch of broccoli.

[01:17:07.00]
So congratulations to you and the interdiction that you're doing there. You're saving lives by doing that. Crystal meth is what you do.

[01:17:14.08]
We do work closely with the ONDCP. Late last year, we were part of a technology challenge that they announced to have a number of companies continue to invest in the technology to find smaller and smaller amounts of of opioid. So, again, we work very closely. That's good.

[01:17:33.04]
I'm not going to ask you about soft side of facilities because Senator Lankford mentioned it. But, you know, that's an area of where I've been worried about waste and overspending and certainly won't be ready. But we want to be smart. And in visiting these facilities, as as I shared, I've shared with you privately several times. They've been underpopulated. And and so I've had great concerns about that. So I would encourage you I know you're closing more than just one now.

[01:17:58.05]
You're grown. And I appreciate that for your responsiveness. And I'm sure it's in the best interests of the department as well in terms of the resources and using the resources in the best way. So I don't if you want to add and we just. Thank you, Chairman. We just need a balance as we bring those facilities off line, making sure that we are still prepared if there is a surge in other surge. Right. Very similar to last year or even half what we saw last year.

[01:18:25.09]
We want to make sure that we have the facilities that we can process these individuals in and we don't have them again showing up and spending long amounts of time in border patrol facilities. Yeah, those aren't the right locations. And so we need to just balance that. Yes, a concern. Thank you. Lastly, I would not lastly, but I would add also to Senator Baldwin's question on the MPP. I mean, I think that with the in conjunction with the Mexican government, it's been a great deterrent to having people flood across our borders inter in the numbers.

[01:18:57.04]
I mean, you've seen it go down since June of what was one hundred five thousand and then this past month it was twenty nine thousand. Something's working there. And I think MPP is one of those protocols.

[01:19:07.00]
Yeah. I would just I would like to elaborate. MPP is designed to do several different things, but one is to make sure that those with meritorious claims can have their claim heard and adjudicated in a timely manner. So we're able to do that in months. Now instead of years. And it's also deterring fraudulent claims. What we're seeing is about half of these individuals that are put in the program never show up for their court hearings. And that's a similar percentage to what we see in the interior as well.

[01:19:33.01]
So individuals that are put in this program that, no, they do not have a again, a meritorious claim, simply choose to walk away. And so it's again, it's a little bit of deterring that fraudulent behavior as well. Rooting out restoring that integrity to the immigration system.

[01:19:48.07]
Thank you. Last question I have is on FEMA. And I want to thank the department here and thank FEMA for helping us in West Virginia recover from the 2016 floods, where you just recently helped us rebuild four of our schools that, you know, it's four years later. So there were some frustrations there. But FEMA really worked to help us make sure we were asking for the right things and making sure. So I appreciate that. And you just helped us with the match issue as well.

[01:20:18.08]
But also in your in your budget request, it seems that the the F the F.Y.I 2020 grants on the National Security and Resilience Grants Program, you're revamping and cutting grants by an estimated six hundred and twenty three million. As somebody who's prone to FEMA has a healthy life in a state like West Virginia, we have unfortunately more than our share of natural occurrences where we need where we need help. I'm concerned, you know, is this going to cut back on?

[01:20:50.06]
Well, less overall funding mean less grant applications would be would be granted. And, you know, when the demand is still up, I'd say it's a balancing act, as is all of our resources are on what's the appropriate grant funding. And I think that continues to be a dialogue between the administration and Congress. And so over time, the grants are designed to again build capabilities that are not there for grantees. But over time, we want to make sure that they don't become to rely on grant funding as part of their base budget.

[01:21:21.08]
So we want to make sure that we continue to find new applicants, new grantees continue to build the resilience and the capabilities of all of our partners in the states. And so that's that's a reflection of what you see in the 21 budget request, is to make sure that we continue to focus on those areas that need continued funding, need to continue to build those capabilities, but that we don't continue to just continue to fund and build out individuals and recipients based budgets.

[01:21:49.01]
It is a balancing act. It's a shared responsibility, not only for FEMA grants. There are certain grants where we've increased two or three fold TBP TV that we talked about domestic terrorism prevention. We've increased the number of grants in that area. So we look at each grant program differently to determine what's needed.

[01:22:08.07]
I would say in terms of I'll turn to senator tests in terms of FEMA grants and preparedness and emergency response in this country. I think all of us have collectively responded to each individual areas of our country that have had need. If we've had to have supplemental funding or if we'd had to expedite the response quicker, I think we all kind of pulling for each other here. But I think the best thing for that, for the department and for states to plan is to make sure we have enough in there to have that base line response capabilities so we don't have to go to the up and downs of supplementals and emergency fundings and all that.

[01:22:47.00]
So, Senator Tester.

[01:22:48.09]
Thank you, Madam Chair. And also want to just say thank you for. Thanks again for being here. Acting Secretary, I'm not gonna do a gotcha. I just. Are you familiar with the term consultation as it applies to getting having meaningful conversations with Indian tribes? Yes. Okay. So the question is, is there's a wall being built with the Tohono O'odham tribe is the tribe says it is going across. It's going to cross tribal land. That is a burial site.

[01:23:21.00]
But they're the tribes. Has there's been no consultation. Go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead. No shoot. I mean, I've had I've had conversations with both. Secretary Ah, sorry, Senator McSally in cinema on this issue. We have been in constant communication with the tribe and with the nation. We have some differences of opinion. But the community, it's not for a lack of communication. I'll continue to communicate with him. I plan to visit them as early as I can on one of my next visits there.

[01:23:51.06]
Appreciate that.

[01:23:52.03]
But the whole idea behind consultation is just it's actually listening. I mean, I'm not saying you're not, but I'm saying that when you get pictures of like this, that Piers is going through a burial site. Maybe there's more to the complaints than just somebody unhappy with the Trump.

[01:24:08.01]
I know they were they were concerned about use of groundwater. So we've addressed that concerned. We're no longer using it within a certain mileage. So it is critically important. And I agree. And where I'm getting to on this is not only with tribes, I've brought up eminent domain in the last round. These these are all setup grounds where people come to hate the government. And there is nobody that I've served with in the United States Senate today. Certainly nobody on this committee that doesn't want to empower you to do the job you need to do to keep this country safe.

[01:24:38.07]
You brought up the stuff on the wall that's gonna keep this country safe. It's not it's not a steel wall that's 18 or 20 feet high. It's the lights. It's a camera. It's a radar. It's the heat seeking information that can be up this technology. It's the artificial intelligence, it's all of that. I just wish and I know you can't tell the president that this is a bad idea because if you do, you won't be secretary anymore because he tends to put people in positions like yours that absolutely agree with him on it.

[01:25:05.01]
Again, Senator, we need the entire border wall system. So we talk about the border wall. I got physical infrastructure and it's all of the other technology that you talk.

[01:25:12.08]
What I'll tell you is that if you use technology, you get away from the problems that the Tohono O'odham have. You get away from the problems that the folks with eminent domain have. You get away from the million acres in Texas alone that's going to be separated and become a no man's land. That's the United States soil. But we'll be south of that wall. You get you'll get rid of all those things. And I maintain that it's going to be more effective than a wall.

[01:25:38.01]
And you know why? Because 10 or 20 years from now, there will be different challenges and you'll be able to change that technology to meet the 21st century challenges that a wall is not gonna be able to meet. And I just hope I put that out there. We can disagree. But mark my word, if I live long enough, there will be somebody standing in front that wall, some president that will say tear down this wall because it's much more effective utilizing technology.

[01:26:03.05]
And it's a fact.

[01:26:05.01]
Absolutely. Border Patrol needs technology. We continue to request additional technologies, but they also need the impedance and denial that an effective border wall system provides in that country directly from the operators.

[01:26:16.00]
And what I'm telling you, if you utilize manpower, united utilized technology, you can be more efficient than a wall. Why? Because you can see further out. And that's the question on the northern border. And it's the question that the senator from North Dakota brought up that these towers are critically important and they cost pennies on the dollar. You know, we're spending at, what, two and a half billion dollars on a potential pandemic that could raise that.

[01:26:39.05]
And by the way, if the 2 percent mortality rate we're getting out of China, I hope we've got intel to back that up, because they haven't been very forthright with a lot of the information. They don't want us to know. So I think that's another thing. But we're spending two and a half billion dollars on a potential pandemic and we're spending 17 and a half million. And we just started on a wall anyway. It doesn't make any sense.

[01:27:02.01]
I. Talk about something more fun. Election security. We've got interference in the run up potential and foreign interference in the run up to 2020 elections. Serious concern is no surprise that Russia is at it again. Their goal is to undermine the confidence of our democracy and our electoral systems and spread disinformation via social media and other platforms. You're seeing it based on the Italian intelligence reports that you're privy to. Do you agree that in the Ice Age community, do you agree that Russia's trying to influence this upcoming 2020 election?

[01:27:35.08]
We believe that they, as they did in 2016, that they will try to influence the election in 2020.

[01:27:41.09]
And do you feel that your department. We don't have any specific intelligence or that we know that they've tried. We know that they did in 16. We assume they will do again in 20.

[01:27:50.08]
So I understand you don't want to get in trouble, but the truth is, you are a member of the intelligence community. Has that information been shared that Russia is trying to influence our elections again? I'm not saying in favor of anybody outright saying, yes, they do continue to sow discord with our election and with this budget.

[01:28:07.01]
Do you think this fully this fully this properly resources DHS to be able to attack this problem? Absolutely. And you feel good about the potential about the potential to make sure the states are on board. Yes. They know that you're there to give them a backstop. Absolutely.

[01:28:23.04]
So we do a number of things with the states not only providing a number of services at no cost to the states that we're working with state election officials, but we're also working with political parties and individual campaigns to offer those same services to their platforms and what they have out there. We're also trying to educate voters to determine on what type of foreign interference looks like and sort of adjust from there. They have a role to play in this as well.

[01:28:48.03]
I think this is foundational to the future of this country and the future is democracy. Russia's screwing around and they're they're doing this on for less than it costs for a fighter jet. And it's crazy. I just have one other question for you, if I might. And that is, is that there is a proposed Secret Service move. I was to Treasury from your department to Treasury. I don't necessarily think that's a good idea. But that isn't the point here.

[01:29:16.04]
Whether you think it's good or I think it's good. The point is, has there been an independent analysis to determine the pros and cons of such a move?

[01:29:24.00]
There has been a study, I believe, that's been provided to Congress on the move from DHS to Treasury and to the pros and the cons of that. Happy to provide that again to you. And who did it? I believe it was the number of folks to include Secret Service, but also other elements of the department.

[01:29:42.06]
Was it an independent group that had no dog in the fight? No, I believe there was. There's folks from the U.S. government that would be involved in that move. I think the. Be involved from a question answering side, not a question asking side, OK? And so I think it's important. I honestly think Secret Service should remain where it's at. Why? Because I think you do a good job. And I think there's more benefits and there's more cost effective benefits if we keep it where it is.

[01:30:08.05]
I don't understand. Send that to Treasury. There may be a reason or two, but it certainly does not. Where the reason to keep it where it's that. I just want to say, just in closing really quick, thank you for what you're doing. There were tough questions that were asked today. I appreciate your frankness. And I also appreciate getting the information back that you said you have.

[01:30:26.07]
Thank you, sir. Good luck to you. Thank you. Thank you. I'd like to thank you as well for your testimony. We've just gotten called for a vote. I would like to tell my friend, Senator Tester that I agree with him on the Secret Service. I don't agree that they should be leaving and moving over Treasury. They're part of the fabric of the Department of Homeland Security. And so I I I frown upon that as well.

[01:30:50.05]
And I think I think if the illusion that possibly may be thought that more resources or more attention would be paid to the Secret Service at the Department of Treasury, I think you do a great job at the Department of Homeland Security, recognizing that I've toward a lot of what they do in and around the White House and in our executive protection. And there is such a quality group of individuals that I think homeland, they're well-placed in homeland security. I have one last quick question on the Corona virus.

[01:31:22.02]
When you mentioned your your resources that are screening people and this is probably small because there's only 15 cases. But I think this is something that sometimes we forget sometimes when people are in the workforce and they're placed in situations where they could put themselves at risk, that we're not really that we may overlook that own personal risk that they're taking in betterment for that, you know, for the good of the country. You know, something like this, I think is a pretty careful and sensitive topic.

[01:31:57.02]
So I'm sure that you're keeping your eye on those frontline workers. But I do believe that that is something that I'm concerned about. It was part of my response to Senator Kennedy. I have a responsibility to make sure the American people are safe, but also the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security and doing their job every single day. So we provide a number of resources to CBP officers as well as TSA officers to make sure that they are aware of the risk.

[01:32:21.07]
They understand the medical science behind it. We provide him a number of protective equipment that they are able to use and most are using that. But we'll continue to leave. Lean forward on that. Any briefing, any discussion about Corona virus, how the department's responding? My first or second question is always about the men and women of the department. How are they protected? And they are doing their job every day. As you show up to work, every day, you expect to be protected.

[01:32:45.04]
Right. I mean, we need to make sure that we do that for you. And I would say to to center Shaheen's point, if you leave a gap of transparency of what's going on and what how it's transmitted, how many people it's getting filled on Twitter and all these other things, and you get this sensationalization like I read something this morning that said somebody was infected after 24 days of a 24 day incubation period. I had no idea if that's true or not.

[01:33:10.03]
And so if you're keeping people for 14 days, it doesn't matter if it's 24 days. So I really think when you get back to your task force in the morning that this is something, you know, people are starting to get really, really concerned about this, as you know. So this concludes our hearing. Acting Secretary Wolf, really appreciate you and all the men and women in your department. And thank you for representing them so well today.

[01:33:32.04]
The hearing record will remain open for two weeks from today. Senators may submit written questions for the record, and we ask that the department respond to them within a reasonable amount of time. If you need some help with clarifications on the questions, I'm sure either relatives senators were provided or we'd be able to help provided that it is the chairman's in the chairman's office. So with that, we stand in recess.

[01:34:11.05]
Very strong. This is to. Part of the whole world, actually, is for people to talk.