DHS Secretary speaks at CREATE presentation

The National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), a USC-based interdisciplinary research center funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, hosted Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on Thursday afternoon. Johnson’s speech focused largely on the department’s priorities, including cybersecurity, annual appropriations and the Unity of Effort initiative.

In the months following his swearing-in as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Johnson proposed his Unity of Effort initiative. The goal is to create a more centralized decision-making system at department headquarters.

“Many of our components have been stove-piped, and were bringing in a more coordinated, more strategic approach to homeland security in general,” Johnson said. “The Department of Defense moved into this direction from its birth in 1947 on, and [DHS] want to move in a similar direction.”

The plan to consolidate 22 departments and agencies, formed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has — according to Johnson — already identified several department realignments that can be made and inefficiencies that can be eliminated.

“We do not expect the Secret Service to behave like the Coast Guard or TSA to behave like FEMA, but where it counts — budget decisions, acquisition decisions -— we want a more centralized, strategic approach,” Johnson explained of the streamlining approach that has won bipartisan praise in Congress.

Johnson then focused on the topic of cybersecurity and its impact on national security. In the wake of several cyber attacks, including the recent data breach of U.S. insurance giant Anthem, cybersecurity has become an increasingly pressing issue for both the Department of Homeland Security and Congress.

“There is a lot more we need to do. There are attacks daily in the United States on our cyber infrastructure,” Johnson said.

The secretary went on to explain the measures that have already been taken, including legislation passed by Congress last year, to increase cybersecurity.

“We want to promote information sharing with the private sector,” Johnson said, citing the Cyber Information Sharing Act.

The controversial cybersecurity bill is intended to help private companies and the government impede hackers and other illegal system intrusions. The DHS is in the process of making it a requirement to receive notification of private sector data breaches and increasing penalities for cyber crime.

At the end of his talk, Johnson addressed concerns over the current stalemate in Congress that could potentially leave the DHS without funding after Feb. 27.

The DHS runs on an annual budget of $60 billion — $39 billion of which is appropriated by Congress and the rest pooled by department fees and FEMA. Though the House was able to pass a bill for the department’s funding, Democrats refuse to pass it through Senate, and President Obama has threatened to veto it until a “clean” spending bill that does not attack his executive actions on immigration is proposed. If an agreement is not reached by Feb. 27, the DHS will have to use funds left over from the 2014 annual budget and furlough 30,000 jobs, which could make the nation more vulnerable to attacks.

Johnson believes the DHS will receive funding, but is unsure of when Congress will reach an agreement.