Feb 25, 2020
Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf Testimony Transcript
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified before the Senate on the 2021 Budget Request from Donald Trump. Wolf faced heavy questioning about the United States’ preparedness for the coronavirus. Read the full transcript of his testimony right here on Rev.com.
Chairman Capito: (00:00)
Wolf was named acting secretary of Homeland Security November the 13th 2019. Prior to taking on this very challenging task, he developed and coordinated strategies and policies that advanced the Homeland security mission and protected the American public through his leadership role in the office of strategy, policy and plans. Mr. Wolf is a recipient of the US Secretary of Homeland securities, distinguished service medal for his initiatives to counter domestic and international terrorism and safeguard American interest throughout the duration of his career at the department. So, thank you for that.
Chairman Capito: (00:33)
I’m glad to be joined by our subcommittee’s ranking member Senator Tester. 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, the full committee or the … Senator Leahy as well.
Chairman Capito: (00:55)
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. Our 2020 bill provided a total of 50.46 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 FEMA to support disaster relief efforts and state grant programs. It provided additional funding for the office of targeted violence and terrorism prevention to combat emerging threats. It funded the deployment of aviation security equipment, which I actually saw myself 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 US Coast Guard have the operational capacity to carry out their domestic and overseas missions.
Chairman Capito: (02:10)
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. 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 that’s in that 2020 bill, because it’s so critical to me and my state is the continuing efforts of the department to combat the opioid and methamphetamine crisis. Our state of West Virginia is acutely affected by this challenge, is promising to see that the investments made by the first bill in 2019. The subsequent bill in 2020 have had some tangible impacts. 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 ICE investigative staffing in Appalachia, particularly affected area and other regions affected by the drug crisis and funding for the opioid detection research.
Chairman Capito: (03:28)
These are real investments that will make a significant difference and we plan to continue to work with you to make sure these investments are put to good use. 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 FY 2020 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 … excuse me, tons of seizures of contraband. We helped provide what was needed at the border, but at the same time, we as a subcommittee did not lose sight of the departments, many other critical missions throughout the duration of the crisis, and I’m just named some. Counter-terrorism, 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 the Coronavirus. Just to name a few.
Chairman Capito: (04:49)
I know going forward we’ll remember the role that this subcommittee plays in enabling and scrutinizing all of the missions of the department. As we are discussing all the department’s mission 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 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. Given all of the department’s critical needs, I am again disappointed that many parts of this budget requests are not grounded in reality, including one, assuming that the appropriate committees of Congress will authorize new revenue, two, 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 annualize many of the critical bi-partisan security related activities that we funded in FY 20.
Chairman Capito: (05:51)
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 enacts 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. Acting Secretary Wolf, thank you for appearing before us today. We will make sure that you 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.
Senator Tester: (06:38)
Thank you, Chairman Capito and 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 and Department of Homeland Security.
Senator Tester: (06:50)
I would be remiss if I didn’t say it, I think it’s very unfortunate that acting as 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 and I just want to put that in for the record. I want to express my thanks not only to you but to the 240,000 employees of DHS who work to keep us safe and 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 and 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. The proposed budget places an emphasis on an ineffective border wall and requests thousands of new deportation officers and detention beds. This all seems to be funded by cuts to vital national security programs such as cyber security, aviation security, chemical security, preparedness grants for local communities and innovative research. This is an alarming trend.
Senator Tester: (08:04)
With regard to the border wall, congress has appropriated four 4.5 billion dollars over the last four fiscal years. The president has taken another 10.1 billion from military and 601 million from treasury [inaudible 00:08:17] fund over bi-partisan objection of Congress. Put all those numbers together, that’s almost 20 billion dollars 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 promised. All these dollars have 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 borders ecosystem and cost nearly $25 million per mile on average when alternate technology solutions could be deployed at a much lower cost.
Senator Tester: (08:53)
I would also tell you that 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 emails that was sent to me from a Trump supporter on the Southern border who’s having their 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. The last border wall plan DHS submitted is out of date and the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, criticizes being incomplete and lacking in several key areas.
Senator Tester: (09:26)
Further two weeks ago, FBI director Christopher Ray testified before 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. A border wall across the Southern border addresses none of the concerns that FBI director raised as serious threats to our Homeland.
Senator Tester: (10:01)
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 the DHS trusted traveler programs come to mind as recent examples of whether the resources are being used to protect the country or solely to make political points. The bottom line for me, as ranking member of this committee, is to ensure that we’re investing hard earned and taxpayer dollars in programs and 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. I will be seeking a commitment for you today. The sufficient resources are being dedicated to execute that plan in a timely manner.
Senator Tester: (11:09)
Mr. Acting Secretary, I look forward to your testimony. As I said in a 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.
Chairman Capito: (11:26)
Thank you, Senator Tester. With that, we’ll go to the testimony of the Acting Secretary. Thank you, Mr Secretary.
Chad Wolf: (11:33)
Chairman Capito, ranking member Tester and distinguished members of the subcommittee, it’s a privilege to appear before you today to discuss the Department of Homeland Security’s mission to keep the nation safe and to present the president’s fiscal year of ’21 budget for the Department. As acting secretary, my priorities are guided by determination to ensure that DHS is robust, resilient and forward leaning, prepared to address the threats of today and those of tomorrow. Fiscal year of ’21 President’s budget is not only a reflection of those priorities but a path to achieving them.
Chad Wolf: (12:03)
As a subcommittee knows, the Department of Homeland Security’s mission spans, air, land, sea, and cyber domains, and our workforce of 240,000 strong stands watch for the nation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They safeguard the United States from terrorists, adversaries and others who seek to do us harm. They also facilitate our lawful trade and travel, balancing security with the freedom of movement with care and precision every day. As they often say, “Economic security is Homeland Security.” And the Department plays a critical role in this mission.
Chad Wolf: (12:36)
President’s budget ensures that our workforce has the resources it needs to execute these critical responsibilities. It includes 49.8 billion in net discretionary funding and an additional 5.1 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 includes securing our borders, enforcing our immigration laws, securing cyberspace and critical infrastructure, transportation, security, and American preparedness. Recognizing that the threats to the Homeland are more dynamic than ever before, the budget also positions the Department to respond to emerging threats, including those emanating from nation states.
Chad Wolf: (13:15)
DHS is also helping to manage the US government’s response to the Coronavirus. Today, the risks from Coronavirus 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 CW MD office and we continue to provide those contracts at those 11 airports.
Chad Wolf: (13:45)
I’ll now highlight a handful of specific priorities included in the fiscal ’21 budget. Department must continue to grow our digital defense as cybersecurity threats grow in scope and severity. Department maintains an enhanced posture on election security to preserve our electoral 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 150 million from the President’s FY 20 budget request.
Chad Wolf: (14:19)
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.
Chad Wolf: (14:48)
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, counter terrorism remains a top focus for the department. Importantly, the President has increased funding for targeted violence and terrorism prevention programs by over 500% 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.
Chad Wolf: (15:16)
Budget also invests in modernizing the fleet for the United States Coast Guard, provides 550 million to fund the construction of the second polar security cutter, which supports our national interest in the polar region. It also includes 564 million for the offshore patrol cutter, another critical capital investment for the Coast Guard. While 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. For DHS, the budget provides funding for 500 new cybersecurity employees across the department. For CVP, 750 new border patrol agents, 126 new support staff and 300 border patrol processing coordinators. For ICE, 2800 new law enforcement officers, approximately 400 or so new attorneys and nearly 1400 new support staff and for TSA, funding to sustain roughly 47,000 transportation security officers to match the pace in passenger growth over the next year.
Chad Wolf: (16:25)
Budget also provides funding for an overall pay increase for DHS employees, including a 3% increase for our uniformed Coast Guard men and women. These priorities are only a few included in the budget and DHS has 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, and we should all sleep better at night knowing that they are on duty. 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 FY ’21 budget requests. Again, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and look forward to the questions.
Chairman Capito: (17:03)
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 testimony that the President’s budget requests more than what the president requested last year but in fact, it’s about 250 million less than what this Congress enacted in cybersecurity. How do you account for that … taking your own testimony at the urgency of cybersecurity and how it’s growing, how are you justifying a 250 million dollar cut to an area that’s so critical?
Chad Wolf: (17:46)
I think there’s a couple of different factors at play. One is the process and the timeline of which when the budget was created, obviously, it was created well before we received our funding last year but what I will say is obviously, we’re in 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 requests fully funds what system needs to continue to provide that election security resource. Again, election security, while it’s called out specifically in CySA’s budget as a line item, a lot of what they do throughout CySA plays in and contributes to a lot of the resources and services they provide to election state officials, as well as our political campaigns.
Chairman Capito: (18:31)
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?
Chad Wolf: (18:38)
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 FY ’20, again that’s our election year, so we’re doing a lot more activities this year and as we look at ’21, we’ll sustain that in the budget that we requested for ’21 will sustain those activities.
Chairman Capito: (18:57)
Well, I would note also that you are canceling the [inaudible 00:19:01] program at the same time, which is part of that reduction as well. 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 going to be an ongoing responsibility of review and others within the administration.
Chairman Capito: (19:17)
Let me ask about the border wall because that’s a obviously a source of interest. Can you tell us … you’re asking for enough to build another a hundred and … currently, 126 miles have currently been built to date of the money that’s been previously provided for. What are the new capabilities as a result of this and what are you seeing as the next two billion dollars and how will that affect this border wall system?
Chad Wolf: (19:45)
Sure, Chairman. As you indicated, we have about 126 that are completed. We have another 213 that are currently under construction, 213 miles currently under construction and another 414 in the pre construction phase. The capabilities, as I often talk about, are night and day over the existing landing mat, 1970’s air landing mat 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, again, is 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 sort of a three legged stool but when we talk about technology, the first thing that 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.
Chairman Capito: (20:48)
The processing agents that we provided for, and I might have the incorrect name there, but you know what I’m talking about in the border patrol that we provided for 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 healthcare 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 the different areas of border patrol.
Chairman Capito: (21:22)
How many people have you hired into that and what’s been the success of that? I know it’s been a short period of time, but because you’re asking for more in this budget.
Chad Wolf: (21:30)
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, they’re certainly not trained to do-
Chairman Capito: (21:54)
But you don’t know if you have hired any into that yet?
Chad Wolf: (21:57)
We have. I don’t have the exact number.
Chairman Capito: (21:58)
Before we refund it, we want to make sure that actually you’re able … this has been a problem for the Department, hiring into certain positions. So, I think we need to carefully watch that.
Chairman Capito: (22:09)
I’ll ask one more question and then move on. I really want to ask about the soft sided facilities, but I’m going to ask about Coronavirus. I’ll get another chance to ask about the soft sided facilities. This is a source of great concern of so many people. I’m sure you all, as you’re walking around your respective states, people are asking all the time, “What are we doing? Are we on top of this?” You mentioned, I guess there was a briefing this morning that basically told us that it’s going to come more broadly to the United States, which I think we all expect, but can you tell us how you’re working on the Coronavirus and with who, what other coordinating entities?
Chad Wolf: (22:50)
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 Coronavirus. We are implementing measures to support that. So, particularly in the airport environment, the Seaport environment as well as land ports of entry, 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 asked us to lean into.
Chad Wolf: (23:25)
As of to date, we have about 15 cases that we’ve identified coming in from China that’s separate from those on cruise ships that have been parked overseas. So, we feel like, again, the threat right now remains low as we talk to CDC and others. I think they continue to expect the number of cases in the US to increase. I will say over the last several weeks, it really has not increased. It’s remained relatively flat between 12 and 14 cases. So, the department feels very comfortable in the measures that we’ve put in place, but again, as CDC continues to adopt their medical strategy, the department will adopt it’s operational-
Chairman Capito: (24:03)
Presently, do you have the resources you need to move forward?
Chad Wolf: (24:06)
We do. So, we continue to look at that on a very close basis. 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 to adjust for that, 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.
Chairman Capito: (24:26)
Thank you, Senator Tester. Senator Leahy.
Senator Leahy: (24:31)
Thank you Senator Tester and thank you Madam Chair. Acting Secretary Wolf, 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. This is the most acting positions I’ve seen in my decades in the Senate. Now President might appreciate that flexibility that Active Secretary’s given. I prefer the constitutional checks and balances.
Senator Leahy: (25:14)
Now, you talked a little bit about the border. President has rated billions of congressionally appropriated dollars from critical defense projects to fund this border wall, including money to clean up housing for service members from mold to lead to [inaudible 00:25:42] their children. We’ve seen reports it could be defeated with ease. You could go get a hundred dollar cordless saw from a department store in the El Paso sector and I’ve been down there and visited border agents, have even found a large number of five dollar rebar ladders, which they use more and more. How many five dollar ladders or hundred dollar cordless size have been used to defeat the wall?
Chad Wolf: (26:21)
Senator, I don’t have that.
Senator Leahy: (26:22)
You don’t know how many-
Chad Wolf: (26:23)
We do 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 yes, the adversaries will continue to try to find innovative ways to cross the border.
Senator Leahy: (26:37)
Well, it’s not too innovative to get a cordless saw or to get a five dollar rebar ladder. That’s not very innovative, is it?
Chad Wolf: (26:49)
I would say no. That can be found at probably any hardware store.
Senator Leahy: (26:53)
Do we have numbers of how many times that’s been done?
Chad Wolf: (26:56)
In the past I’m sure we can find those numbers again. What we see largely is from that 1970’s era, where it’s about eight feet high. You can get a ladder on or you can actually jump over that wall. So, we’ve seen a lot of ladders and that’s what we’re trying to-
Senator Leahy: (27:08)
Let me know how many in the past year.
Chad Wolf: (27:11)
In the past year, we’ll get that information for you. Border Patrol will have that.
Senator Leahy: (27:14)
Okay. How many tunnels?
Chad Wolf: (27:16)
Senator Leahy: (27:16)
How many tunnels have been discovered?
Chad Wolf: (27:19)
That’s probably in the single digits, but we continue to invest in technology that will look for tunneling as well.
Senator Leahy: (27:29)
Well then will you let me know the number of devices and the types that have been discovered by CVP that used to defeat the wall?
Chad Wolf: (27:41)
Yes, Senator, we’ll take that-
Senator Leahy: (27:42)
When can I expect the first accounting of these numbers?
Chad Wolf: (27:45)
I’ll get with CVP today and we’ll provide you numbers as quickly as possible.
Senator Leahy: (27:49)
Senator Leahy: (27:53)
We were told by the Drug Enforcement Administrations counter drug assessment and they keep telling us this, the most common method for transporting illicit drugs into the US is through the ports of entry. Now they’ve been increasing, I know they’ve been increasing the … its use of drive through scanners at ports of entry. Do you know the approximate percentage of passenger and commercial vehicles? Their scan across ports of entry along the Southwest border?
Chad Wolf: (28:27)
Right now it’s about one percent of passenger vehicles and about fifteen percent of commercial vehicles. I Will say that Congress, in FY ’19 and FY ’20, did provide a number of funding for our NII technology that would screen for narcotics. So, the goal by 2023 is to increase for passenger vehicles from one percent to forty percent using that funding that Congress provided and then for commercial vehicles from fifteen percent to seventy two percent.
Senator Leahy: (28:52)
What are the most recent statistics to the percentage of hard narcotics like methamphetamine, heroin that are apprehended between ports of entry compared to at ports of entry?
Chad Wolf: (29:05)
So roughly, we see the majority of narcotics coming through the ports of entry. We will interdict those about two thirds of the time. About 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.
Senator Leahy: (29:27)
Now the DHS has continued to cannibalize funds and other critical accounts to fund more detention beds. So, you have the constant ballooning of ICE’s detention capacity. [inaudible 00:29:43] Congress of corporations decision. For example, the roughly 40,000 individuals currently detained by ICE. Nearly 8,000 of them are solemn seekers who demonstrated about 20% a credible fear of persecution and torture. Roughly what percentage, be my last question, my time is up, roughly what percentage of these 8,000 individuals have committed serious criminal offenses such that they’d be a public safety risk if they were released and how much does it cost to detain those 8,000 individuals every day?
Chad Wolf: (30:29)
Senator, I don’t have that exact 8,000 figure. What I can tell you is that ICE, on any given day, continues to prioritize the removal of criminals from our community. So, it’s about 89% between 87 and 89% of the amount of individuals they remove every year are either criminals, those on final orders of removal or have criminal arrest of some kind. So, we’ll continue to prioritize removing criminals from our communities, but they have a wide mission, so they’re enforcing immigration law at the border in the interior and elsewhere.
Senator Leahy: (31:00)
But you’re going to let me know how much it costs to detain the 8,000 who are asylum seekers?
Chad Wolf: (31:10)
Yes. Senator, we’ll take that for the record.
Senator Leahy: (31:12)
And the other 40,000 I’d like that within the week if we could.
Chad Wolf: (31:16)
Senator Leahy: (31:17)
Chairman Capito: (31:17)
Thank you, Senator Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy: (31:22)
Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you Mr Secretary for being here. How many cases of Coronavirus do we have right now in the United States?
Chad Wolf: (31:31)
Well, we have 14 cases plus an additional, I believe it’s 20 or 30 some odd cases that we have repatriated back into the US from a number of cruise ships.
Senator Kennedy: (31:44)
How many are you anticipating?
Chad Wolf: (31:45)
Again, we’re working with HHS to determine that.
Senator Kennedy: (31:49)
I understand. How many are you anticipating?
Chad Wolf: (31:50)
We do anticipate the number will grow. I don’t have an exact figure for you though.
Senator Kennedy: (31:54)
Do you have an estimate … is someone modeling that? Do you have any way of guessing?
Chad Wolf: (32:00)
Again, HHS through their medical professionals, are-
Senator Kennedy: (32:02)
Yes, but you’re head of Homeland Security, and your job is to keep us safe.
Chad Wolf: (32:06)
Senator Kennedy: (32:07)
Do you know today how many the experts are predicting?
Chad Wolf: (32:13)
We only know that, again, we anticipate those numbers to grow in the US, that’s why we’re making sure that our operations, again, at our airports, land ports and elsewhere are flexible.
Senator Kennedy: (32:21)
But you can’t tell us how many your models are anticipating.
Chad Wolf: (32:26)
No, Senator. Again, I would defer you to the Health and Human Services for that.
Senator Kennedy: (32:30)
Okay. Don’t you think you ought to check on that?
Chad Wolf: (32:33)
Senator Kennedy: (32:34)
As the head of Homeland Security.
Chad Wolf: (32:35)
Absolutely. Again, we have task force members that are working this on every day.
Senator Kennedy: (32:39)
I’m all for committees and task-
Chad Wolf: (32:40)
So, we’re coordinating with them to make sure that our operations-
Senator Kennedy: (32:43)
But you’re the Secretary. I think you ought to know that answer.
Chad Wolf: (32:46)
I understand that.
Senator Kennedy: (32:49)
How is the Coronavirus transmitted?
Chad Wolf: (32:50)
Through a variety of ways. Obviously, human to human. We’ve seen that. Again, we’re making sure that those procedures as they come into the US are medically screened so that we can identify.
Chad Wolf: (33:03)
Teachers, as they come into the U.S., are medically screened so that we can identify those folks.
Senator Kennedy: (33:04)
How is it transmitted?
Chad Wolf: (33:06)
A variety of different ways, Senator.
Senator Kennedy: (33:07)
Tell me what they are, please.
Chad Wolf: (33:08)
Again, human to human, is what we’ve primarily seen.
Senator Kennedy: (33:12)
Well obviously, human to human. How?
Chad Wolf: (33:14)
Being in the same vicinity. Physical contact is usually what we’ve seen from the medical cases that we’ve seen here in the U.S. We’ve had several, I think, two to three human-to-human cases that have showed up here in the U.S. So it’s those that are closest to those individuals that have that human contact.
Senator Kennedy: (33:40)
What’s the mortality rate so far, nationwide… Worldwide?
Chad Wolf: (33:43)
Worldwide, I believe it’s under 2%.
Senator Kennedy: (33:47)
How much under 2%?
Chad Wolf: (33:48)
I’ll get you an exact figure. I’ll check with CDC. They’re monitoring the worldwide mortality rate, and I can get that for you.
Senator Kennedy: (33:58)
But you don’t know the mortality rate today?
Chad Wolf: (34:00)
It changes daily, Senator.
Senator Kennedy: (34:04)
Well, I understand that. What the average since we discovered the virus?
Chad Wolf: (34:05)
Again, it’s under 2%. It was as high as 3%. Numbers were recalculated based on reporting from China.
Senator Kennedy: (34:12)
Is it between 1.5% and 2%?
Chad Wolf: (34:14)
It’s between 1.5% and 2%.
Senator Kennedy: (34:15)
Okay. What’s the mortality rate for influenza over the last say, 10 years, in America?
Chad Wolf: (34:20)
It’s also right around that percentage as well. I don’t have that offhand, but it’s right around 2% as well.
Senator Kennedy: (34:28)
You sure of that?
Chad Wolf: (34:29)
It’s a little bit. Yes, sir.
Senator Kennedy: (34:30)
Okay. Do we have enough respirators?
Chad Wolf: (34:37)
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, as part of the supplemental-
Senator Kennedy: (34:46)
We just heard testimony that we don’t.
Chad Wolf: (34:50)
Senator Kennedy: (34:51)
In a briefing.
Chad Wolf: (34:53)
Senator Kennedy: (34:55)
You’re head of Homeland Security.
Chad Wolf: (34:56)
For medical professionals, or for… Sorry, I don’t understand the question.
Senator Kennedy: (35:00)
You’re head of Homeland Security. Do we have enough respirators or not.
Chad Wolf: (35:03)
For patients? I don’t understand the question.
Senator Kennedy: (35:05)
For everybody. Every American who needs one, who gets the disease.
Chad Wolf: (35:10)
Again, I would refer you to HHS on that.
Senator Kennedy: (35:13)
Mr. Secretary, you’re supposed to keep a-
Chad Wolf: (35:13)
My budget supports the men and women-
Senator Kennedy: (35:17)
You’re the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Chad Wolf: (35:19)
Senator Kennedy: (35:20)
And you can’t tell me if we have enough respirators?
Chad Wolf: (35:24)
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 are protected to do their jobs, to screen individuals coming in. We’re working with HHS, CDC and their budgets to ensure that they have enough medical equipment.
Senator Kennedy: (35:39)
Do we have enough face masks?
Chad Wolf: (35:42)
For the Department of Homeland Security, we do.
Senator Kennedy: (35:44)
I’m not asking for the Department of Homeland Security.
Chad Wolf: (35:44)
Are you looking-
Senator Kennedy: (35:44)
I’m asking for the American people.
Chad Wolf: (35:48)
For the entire American public?
Senator Kennedy: (35:49)
Chad Wolf: (35:50)
No. I would say probably not.
Senator Kennedy: (35:52)
Okay. How short are we?
Chad Wolf: (35:53)
I don’t have that number offhand, Senator. I will get that for you.
Senator Kennedy: (35:56)
Okay. But I want to be sure I understand. Somebody-
Chad Wolf: (36:01)
Senator Kennedy: (36:01)
… is doing modeling-
Chad Wolf: (36:03)
Senator Kennedy: (36:03)
… on how many cases were anticipated.
Chad Wolf: (36:05)
Senator Kennedy: (36:06)
You’re just not aware of them.
Chad Wolf: (36:07)
You’re asking me a number of medical questions that the CDC and HHS are focusing on.
Senator Kennedy: (36:11)
I’m asking you questions, because you’re Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. And you’re supposed to keep us safe.
Chad Wolf: (36:16)
Senator Kennedy: (36:17)
And you need to know the answers to these questions. How far away are we from getting a vaccine?
Chad Wolf: (36:22)
In several months.
Senator Kennedy: (36:26)
Well, that’s not what we just heard testimony about.
Chad Wolf: (36:28)
Senator Kennedy: (36:29)
Who’s on first here?
Chad Wolf: (36:31)
HHS is the lead federal agency for the coronavirus response.
Senator Kennedy: (36:37)
You’re telling me we’re months away from having a vaccine. That your testimony as Secretary of Homeland Security?
Chad Wolf: (36:44)
What I have been told by HHS and CDC, yes.
Senator Kennedy: (36:47)
And have you probed that to make sure that’s accurate?
Chad Wolf: (36:50)
Yes. We continue. Every day, we have task force meetings with those individuals and elsewhere, talking about a number of these issues.
Senator Kennedy: (36:57)
Well, your numbers aren’t the same as CDC’s.
Chad Wolf: (36:59)
Then I would certainly defer to CDC on our medical questions.
Senator Kennedy: (37:03)
Well, don’t you think you ought to contact them and find out whether your right or they’re right?
Chad Wolf: (37:07)
We’re in contact with them every day on our task force.
Senator Kennedy: (37:11)
But you don’t know why you have a discrepancy?
Chad Wolf: (37:14)
I would refer you to the CDC on specific questions.
Senator Kennedy: (37:17)
Mr. Secretary, I’m going to hush here. You’re supposed to keep us safe. And the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus. And I’m not getting them from you.
Chad Wolf: (37:28)
Senator Kennedy: (37:29)
Go ahead, Madam Chair.
Chairwoman Kaptur: (37:31)
Senator Shaheen: (37:32)
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 coronavirus, because we did have a briefing this morning. 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 in the newspaper. I think it would be very helpful to the American public to have a better sense of what’s going on with this issue. Also, to 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 emerging medical emergency.
Chad Wolf: (38:25)
Senator Shaheen: (38:27)
I would now like to go to border security, and the devastating opioid epidemic. New Hampshire, like West Virginia, has been very hard hit. 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. But I am 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. So I wonder if you can discuss the Department’s progress in deploying additional chemical screening devices to detect fentanyl that was required under the Interdict Act. And also, to obtain the advanced data on international mail shipments that were required by the Stop Act. Can you tell us where we are?
Chad Wolf: (39:24)
The Department’s efforts, again, to address the opioid crisis. We are multifaceted. From CVP on the interdiction side, and we’ve talked a little bit about the NII 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 Investigation, certainly has a role here in investigating these seizures. Every time we make it a seizure, we turn those over to investigators. They’ll investigate, and of course, DOJ will help us prosecute those as well. And of course, SNT, we continue to have money. I believe we had money in FY20, about $8 million. Similar requests for FY21, 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.
Senator Shaheen: (40:15)
When do you expect both of those, the full implementation to address what’s in those laws, to be completed?
Chad Wolf: (40:23)
That’s a good question. 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.
Senator Shaheen: (40:37)
Are we doing any cost-effective analysis to see 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 cover that when you respond.
Chad Wolf: (40:53)
Absolutely. 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 that’s an airport of entry or a land port of entry. So we’re focused, again, on the funding that Congress provided… and again, thank you for that… of deploying small, medium and large amounts of the NII technology. That’s everything from a handheld to something that screens a vehicle. Making sure that we deploy that in rapid fashion.
Senator Shaheen: (41:23)
I would like to switch topics now to the H2B 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, our lodging and 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.
Chad Wolf: (41:59)
Sure. 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 H2B program.
Senator Shaheen: (42:22)
Well, 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 have been used. So I don’t think the problem is at Congress. I think the problem is at the administration level. 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 aren’t going to be able to do their business this summer if they don’t have those workers.
Chad Wolf: (42:53)
The reason I say it’s better fit for Congress is, I believe it gives industry a predictability. They’ll know each and every year, how many visas they have to work with and will plan their business accordingly. Every time you give it to the Department, we’ll continue to do our work, 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 rule making to do that. So it continues to increase the time before the visas get out there.
Chad Wolf: (43:20)
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, 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.
Chad Wolf: (43:41)
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 basin have expressed concern with as well. But I share your sense of urgency, Senator. I just want to 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.
Senator Shaheen: (44:11)
Chairwoman Kaptur: (44:12)
Senator Hoeven: (44:16)
Thank you Madam Chair and Secretary Wolf. Thanks for being here. I appreciate you, and we appreciate the work that you do. Border security. Well, let me ask this 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 FY20. Tell me how that money’s going to be spent on UAS, will you?
Chad Wolf: (44:48)
So that’s primarily on the research, development and testing of counter and UAS capabilities. So the Department has some limited jurisdiction in capabilities. We continued 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 UAS technology for some time. So we’re trying to capitalize on their experience and what they’ve seen. And then SNT is building on that with additional research development and testing to hopefully have capabilities out there in the short term.
Senator Hoeven: (45:24)
Well, 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 has responsibility for 900 miles of border. That station all the way from the Great Lakes out through most of Montana. We also have a very large UAS operation. We have the Northern Plains Test Site there we use.
Chad Wolf: (45:46)
I’ve been there, Senator.
Senator Hoeven: (45:47)
Chad Wolf: (45:48)
Senator Hoeven: (45:48)
Great. We’d love you to come back, now that you’re the Secretary. All right?
Senator Tester: (45:52)
And you can come to Montana too.
Chad Wolf: (45:54)
Senator Hoeven: (45:54)
Tester’s got a beautiful state. He’d love to have you check out Montana as well. But we’d like you to come back.
Chad Wolf: (46:00)
I’d be happy to do that.
Senator Hoeven: (46:01)
We think we can help you with your all your border security operations.
Chad Wolf: (46:06)
Great. I believe it was a test site in conjunction with North Dakota State.
Senator Hoeven: (46:12)
University of North Dakota.
Chad Wolf: (46:13)
University of North… Yeah.
Senator Hoeven: (46:13)
We have a very large aviation school there.
Chad Wolf: (46:15)
We were there in late 2018, I believe.
Senator Hoeven: (46:19)
Fantastic. Did you come with McAleenan?
Chad Wolf: (46:23)
With Secretary Nielsen.
Senator Hoeven: (46:24)
Oh, okay. Great. Great. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I remember that visit. I’m sorry, I forgot you were with us. But I appreciate you being here. I’m glad you’ve seen it. We continue to make progress and want you to come back.
Chad Wolf: (46:35)
Senator Hoeven: (46:36)
Tell me a little bit about autonomous surveillance towers.
Chad Wolf: (46:39)
That’s a piece of border patrol technology that’s absolutely critical. We talk about securing the border. We do it through technology, we do it through physical infrastructure. And then of course, people. The autonomous surveillance towers are that other piece of critical technology. 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. So they provide a capability, a domain awareness capability for the border patrol, that improves upon some of the towers that they previously have out there. So we look forward. We’re very excited about the capabilities that that provides them.
Senator Hoeven: (47:19)
You can make it a program of record and expanded it, or are you still going through that process to make that determination?
Chad Wolf: (47:25)
That’s a continuing discussion that we have with CVP. But again, we like what the capabilities that those towers provide, and will continue to deploy them.
Senator Hoeven: (47:34)
Real ID. I just went through that process and got my Real ID. I mean, it’s quite a bit. Fortunately in our state, they’re on top of it. You know, if you get the four different types of required documentation, so on and so forth, go on and get it. Tell me. By October 1, folks are going to have to have that to get on an airplane. What’s going to happen when somebody shows up and their ID isn’t real ID?
Chad Wolf: (48:00)
Thank you for the question.
Senator Hoeven: (48:00)
Are we going to the TSA?
Chad Wolf: (48:02)
Yeah. Thank you for the question. This continues to be an issuing program because in our mind, the States have had over 14 years to phase this in. The law passed in 2006. So we encouraged states to invest. The majority of them have. We have all states are compliant. All but two are issuing Real IDs 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% of IDs in circulation are Real ID compliant. So that’s a relative-
Senator Hoeven: (48:36)
Chad Wolf: (48:37)
Around 35%. So that’s a relatively low number as you look-
Senator Hoeven: (48:40)
I got mine, so it’s like 35% plus one.
Chad Wolf: (48:42)
Yes, sir. It’s a relatively low number as you look at October 2020. So we are doing a number of things engaging in the industry. We just issued a policy adjustment that allows individuals seeking to come in for a real ID. 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 ID passed, is very restrictive for the Department. It was passed in a time where there were no smartphones, 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 DMVs, and a capacity issue at DMVs.
Senator Hoeven: (49:19)
Yeah, but the thing that I’m suggesting to you is, come October 1, you’re going to have a lot of people show up at TSA. They’re going to want to get on an aircraft, and they’re going to show their driver’s license. They won’t have their passport, they won’t have something else. And now, they’re going to say, “Hey, but I got to get on my flight.” That’s going to happen. You know it’s going to happen. Yeah, it’s incumbent on the states to get it out. I think they’re trying. I’m just saying, the TSA is an organization.
Chad Wolf: (49:45)
We are certainly planning. We are planning for-
Senator Hoeven: (49:48)
You’re probably to need some contingency.
Chad Wolf: (49:49)
A variety of eventualities. We are trying to also educate the public. So you can certainly have a Real ID compliant ID. There’s other alternative forms of ID that you can have as well. A military ID, 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 identification 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.
Senator Hoeven: (50:16)
Just a final question. Back to coronavirus. Do you feel you’ve got adequate screening in place now for people coming into the country?
Chad Wolf: (50:23)
We do. We do. Again, we have 11 airports that we’re prescreening folks at. To date, since those measures went in place, DHS, CVP, CWMD… We’ve screened over 50,000 individuals coming into the U.S., and that’s just at airports. We’re also screening folks at land ports of entry, as well as maritime ports of entry.
Senator Hoeven: (50:44)
Is it fair to say that your message to the public then, is that you feel you do have adequate screening?
Chad Wolf: (50:48)
Absolutely. 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. And absolutely, the threat remains low. We’ll adjust those measures as the CDC and HHS directs us to. But as of today, I’m very satisfied on the measures that the Department has taken.
Senator Hoeven: (51:09)
Thank you, Secretary. I appreciate it.
Chad Wolf: (51:11)
Chairwoman Kaptur: (51:11)
Senator Tester: (51:12)
Yeah. Thank you, Chairwoman Kaptur. I want to first talk about the wall budget for a second. $2 million in additional money for construction. 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 JAO. We keep hearing that another plan is coming.
Chad Wolf: (51:38)
Senator Tester: (51:38)
Chad Wolf: (51:39)
I would say in the next several months. It’s currently in review at the Department, and is being finalized.
Senator Tester: (51:45)
Can you give me a… If it isn’t here by like the 1st of June, should we be calling the in front of the Committee and raking you over the coals? Or the 1st of May or the 1st of November?
Chad Wolf: (51:53)
I think that’s fair. I think a June deadline. I will push personally, to get it before that. But we have it. It’s been finalized, or it’s being finalized today.
Senator Tester: (52:03)
If you can get it quicker than that. I mean, we’re, we’re talking… I misspoke. It’s only $15.185 billion for the wall.
Chad Wolf: (52:11)
Senator Tester: (52:11)
That’s a huge amount of money.
Chad Wolf: (52:13)
Senator Tester: (52:14)
We need to have a plan, and it needs to be a good one. Better than the last one. Last week, you announced a plan to expedite the border wall construction by waving 10 federal procurement laws for several sectors, where the border wall is being planned. This will eliminate the full and open competition process. It will eliminate the requirement for contractors to submit cost and pricing, provide a bond, guarantee wage payments, eliminate the bid protest process. We’re talking about $17 billion if this budget goes through, as advertised. How can we protect the American taxpayer if these procurement laws are waived?
Chad Wolf: (53:04)
So the design, the concept behind waving that, that specific waiver was to reduce the length of time between award and construction.
Senator Tester: (53:11)
I got it. I understand.
Chad Wolf: (53:13)
Senator Tester: (53:13)
They’re there for a reason. By the way, this argument can be made for building polar cutter, the C130s, whatever it could be.
Chad Wolf: (53:24)
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 for the-
Senator Tester: (53:35)
Doesn’t your procurement law eliminate any bidding and any protests? So the question is, how do we hold these folks accountable if they get a sweetheart deal?
Chad Wolf: (53:44)
Well again, they’ve already been pre-qualified. They’ve already determined contracts. Most of them are already building the border wall system today. 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 Corps.
Senator Tester: (54:05)
You have a list of contractors then?
Chad Wolf: (54:08)
Senator Tester: (54:10)
Are any of these classified as small businesses?
Chad Wolf: (54:12)
I believe there is one.
Senator Tester: (54:14)
Could you give me that list? Because the procurement also waves the provision that provides opportunities for small businesses.
Chad Wolf: (54:22)
Senator Tester: (54:22)
I’d love to have that, because… I mean, the procurement, is it a pain in the neck? Yeah. Do you have to jump through hoops? Yeah, it tough. But they’re there for a reason. And they’re there to make sure that we hold our contractors accountable, and that the tax payer dollars… I get it. You want to get it built. You want to get it built quickly.
Chad Wolf: (54:40)
Senator Tester: (54:41)
But you still have to do certain things, and have to do it right. Otherwise, after it’s built in the time the dollars had been spent and it wasn’t the best value… The question is, is it too late then?
Chad Wolf: (54:56)
Yes, Senator. 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. Their task orders and the IDIQs that they hold are going to get the best value for the American tax payer.
Senator Tester: (55:10)
From my math, about 235 miles will be needed to be acquired from private landowners or private holdings. Have landowners been contacted?
Chad Wolf: (55:24)
Senator Tester: (55:25)
And how many have given you permission to access their property for a wall?
Chad Wolf: (55:31)
Well again, it’s certainly a complex procedure. Anywhere from the title search survey to the-
Senator Tester: (55:36)
I got it. The question is, is that if you come on my land and you use eminent domain, those are fighting words.
Chad Wolf: (55:42)
Yes, Senator. Again, we survey before we ever get to the condemnation part. We’re doing the survey, the title search.
Senator Tester: (55:48)
Yeah. So where are we at, though? Have we-
Chad Wolf: (55:49)
A number of land owners 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. That’s mainly RGV sector.
Senator Tester: (56:00)
Have you exercised any eminent domain as of yet?
Chad Wolf: (56:04)
The Army Corps has, I believe, in just a small handful of cases.
Senator Tester: (56:07)
I would love to know where they’re at, and I would love to know what transpired. I will tell you. Look, I’m on the northern border. I’m not right on the border, I’m about 80 miles south. 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. The wall may take… I don’t know. How many feet does it take? Half a mile?
Chad Wolf: (56:34)
It’s a little less. There’s an exclusion zone. There’s the physical building of the wall.
Senator Tester: (56:38)
But the fact is, it could have impacts for a much greater areas in that. It is my understanding, there’s a ton of lawsuits. And maybe you know this from the last time this was done during the Bush administration. How many of those lawsuits on eminent domain are still outstanding?
Chad Wolf: (56:53)
I don’t know how many are still outstanding.
Senator Tester: (56:56)
This is really important for private property rights. It really is.
Chad Wolf: (56:59)
I know that we’ve obviously, been sued a number of times regarding the border wall.
Senator Tester: (57:01)
Yeah. I mean, you’re going to get a letter from a lady. I just sent it to the Chairman, from a lady by the name of Kelly Kimbro. That the ranch is going to be split by a wall, who’s very concerned. And by the way, she’s a Rock River Republican. She supported Trump.
Chad Wolf: (57:15)
Senator Tester: (57:15)
And they’re very, very worried about the impacts this is going to have on their farm. I’ll yield for now.
Chairwoman Kaptur: (57:23)
Senator Leahy: (57:25)
Thank you. Chad, thanks for being here, and thanks for the work that you do. You’re covering a lot of issues today, as you do on a normal day. From coronavirus to border security, to all sorts of law enforcement issues, to election security, to security and infrastructure facilities. You’ve got a lot on your plate. So I appreciate the work that you do and the professionals that work around you. You have thousands of folks on the team, so tell them thank you from all of us, and for what they do.
Senator Leahy: (57:51)
I’m going to run through multiple different issues here. But let me start with methamphetamine and through fentanyl and other opioids that are coming through our southern border into the 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 fentanyl and other illegal substances coming across our southern border.
Senator Leahy: (58:15)
There’s a lot of dialogue about what you have already put into place in technology. But it’s always interesting to me, almost everyone I talk 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? 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?
Chad Wolf: (58:47)
So it’s all of the above, Senator. We’re certainly looking at both the technology. Again, the 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. About one-third is between our ports of entry and that number is rising. So we’re concerned about that as well. We have a number of investments have been made by Congress and FY19 and 20 for that NII technology. We’ll continue to invest in our canine workforce.
Senator Leahy: (59:19)
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?
Chad Wolf: (59:24)
The funding for the NII technology will be over multiple years. 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.
Senator Leahy: (59:40)
It is. 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 effected 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. So I appreciate all that 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’s that 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?
Chad Wolf: (01:00:24)
Well, I think our idea is to get out of the soft-sided facility business. So obviously, we did that because of the surge last year. Again, thank you for Congress for finding 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. That’ll be about a $20 million savings per month as we continue to take those offline.
Senator Leahy: (01:00:55)
Is the goal at some point if there’s a surge again, to be able to surge into ICE facilities or to surge back into soft-side?
Chad Wolf: (01:01:00)
What we’re trying to do is, to move some of these soft-sided facilities into hard-sided facilities. So we do need that capacity, that surge capacity on the Southwest border. We would like that to be in a hard-sided facility versus the soft-sided. Over time, those are more cost effective. So we’ll continue. As far as ICE beds though, we do a number of modeling, most of which we share with the Committee. Almost all of it, we share with the Committee. And we continue to see an increase in the beds that ICE continues to need over time.
Chad Wolf: (01:01:29)
So as the surge occurred last year and we were releasing over 100,000, 140,000 in some months, of individuals into the interior, there’s a tale to that. And that comes to ICE doing their law enforcement mission inside the interior of the country. 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 3 million aliens on the non-detained docket, a million of those have final orders of removal. That’s what ICE does. 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.
Senator Leahy: (01:02:08)
Let me make a couple of quick comments. Senator Shaheen had mentioned before, about the H2B visas.
Chad Wolf: (01:02:13)
Senator Leahy: (01:02:13)
I know Congress had given authority to be able to double the number of visas. And that was Congress’s 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 that are there. I know you’ve mentioned already that Congress is the best to be able to set that number. Congress has said, “Hey, work with the Department of Labor and see what we need.” At this point, you have the opportunity to go up to twice as many as you’ve done in the past.
Senator Leahy: (01:02:35)
There was a Wall Street Journal story out last Friday, saying that there is some conversation about there be up to 45,000 additional visas that may come online soon. That’s not been released by your team yet. 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 and 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. So trying to be able to get those done faster is better than slowly trying to be able to piece those out.
Senator Leahy: (01:03:11)
And if I can mention one other thing. If I can beg the indulgence here of the Chairwoman on this. 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 have been very confused by this. Because DHS has said we’re waving RFRA and we have authority to do that. When RIFRA actually says, you can’t waive this unless Congress specifically states that it can be waived. I know this is going to be a battle of the lawyers to be able to determine. 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 they’re not really a statement to say we waive religious freedom protections to be able to build the wall?
Chad Wolf: (01:03:56)
Well, I’ve looked into that issue. Thank you, Senator. And I will say, in the last 12 or 13 waivers I believe that we’ve signed, have not waived RFRA. 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 to ask a series of questions on specifically… Does this inhibit building the border wall system at any point? I think we oftentimes err on the side of caution on what we waive. I think it’s incumbent on 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. As you know, the waivers are specific to specific sectors and miles. It’s incumbent upon us. But I will say the Department has not waived that, again, in the last 12 waivers.
Senator Leahy: (01:04:41)
Since 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never been waived. So I’d like to not have a first in that.
Chad Wolf: (01:04:47)
Senator Leahy: (01:04:48)
Chairwoman Kaptur: (01:04:48)
Senator Baldwin: (01:04:50)
Thank you, Madam Chair. Acting Secretary Wolf, executive order 7521 requires the U.S. 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 9 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. 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 ice break.
Senator Baldwin: (01:06:03)
[inaudible 01:06:00] includes no funding for this new icebreaker. 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 this budget?
Chad Wolf: (01:06:19)
I’ve talked with the commandant about our icebreaker capability, not only in the Polar region, but also in the Great Lakes. I certainly understand the concern that you have. I will say that for the Coast Guard in FY 21, they have a number of priorities. Several of their priorities, as I mentioned, is that Polar Security Cutter, which would be the second one as well as their Offshore Patrol Cutter, which really will become the backbone of what the Coast Guard does, again, offshore. 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. When you have a limited budget, you have to focus resources. As I mentioned at the outset, I’ve talked to the commandant about the icebreaking capabilities in the Great Lakes. He feels comfortable where they sit today, obviously the Mackinaw, but then they have a number of smaller vessels that provide some capability as well, but we’ll continue to have that dialogue. It’s limited resources, we have to prioritize.
Senator Baldwin: (01:07:26)
And I’m fully supportive of the Polar Ice Cutter. I would say the Mackinaw is well over. It’s 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 icebreaking capacity economically and this should be a priority, especially given your comments of equating economic security and national security.
Senator Baldwin: (01:08:04)
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 return 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.
Senator Baldwin: (01:08:47)
Service providers there told me that the migrants returned under MPP are easy targets for criminal organizations in Mexico and, frankly in the US 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 there are shoes, you know that they are probably folks who have been recently released from custody and probably very vulnerable. Your budget requests $126 million 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 taking to ensure that they are safe as they await their day in court?
Chad Wolf: (01:09:54)
Sure. We’re taking a number of steps regarding the MPP program. We had an independent team in the department sort of do a review of the MPP program. These are individuals that have little to do with immigration, so they were coming to this system blind. 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 that we continue to work with the government of Mexico who is a partner with us in this program. Through the Department of State we have offered or we haven’t offered, we’ve provided up to $22 million in funding to help them build out their shelter capability. That includes security for those shelters, also transportation funding. We do a number of things again with our Department of State colleagues to make sure that the government of 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 every day.
Senator Baldwin: (01:10:56)
Are you aware of the shoelace policy?
Chad Wolf: (01:10:58)
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 we release folks.
Senator Baldwin: (01:11:05)
Seems like that would be a very simple thing to correct.
Chad Wolf: (01:11:07)
Chairman Capito: (01:11:10)
Senator Hyde-Smith: (01:11:12)
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 US 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 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 equipments our men and women in uniform desperately need that we do quite well.
Senator Hyde-Smith: (01:12:18)
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. 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 13,000 pounds of narcotics. In the past four years, the men and women of the Coast Guard have interdicted 2 million pounds of pure cocaine worth an estimated value of $26 billion. Please describe the unique capabilities and authorities the Coast Guard provides for homeland and border security.
Chad Wolf: (01:13:08)
Sure. Just to, I would say, expand on your points about the interdiction of drugs at sea. Coast Guard, if you have the ability to visit [inaudible 01:13:18] in Key West. And so that is a facility that’s throughout the DOD, DHS, but a variety of different agencies are focused on that elicit drug traffic coming from South America, Central America into the US. 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. And 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 on a daily basis. They have a law enforcement mission as you indicated, that’s a little different from DOD mission. And they are a natural partner to our DOD assets looking to protect the Homeland, but 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 DOD needs.
Senator Hyde-Smith: (01:14:28)
A switching to the national security arena. Last year, Coast Guard Cutters, Bertholf and Stratton, were deployed in support of the Indo-Pacific commander and missions in support of Department of Defense efforts are becoming a very common occurrence. How has the department prioritized the Coast Guard’s counter-drug and border security missions versus the demand signal for Coast Guard’s assets and support of the combatant commanders.
Chad Wolf: (01:15:01)
It’s certainly a balance. It’s a delicate balance that the commandant has to do every week and every month. One of the services the Coast Guard is happy to provide support to DOD and serve along them. We have about 2000 I believe, Coast Guard men and women that are deployed overseas in support of the various combatant commanders. You mentioned Indo-Pacific, but also in the Middle East, Bahrain and elsewhere. When we had issues flare up in Iraq and Iran at the beginning of the year, we had Coast Guard men and women deployed there in support of DOD as well, so it’s a balance. They certainly have to do their maritime mission here in the homeland, their drug interdiction capabilities. They have many missions, but we’re happy to support and serve alongside DOD professionals overseas as well.
Senator Hyde-Smith: (01:15:54)
Thank you and it is very clear that it’s a huge balance, but thank you for what you do in addressing that. Thank you Madam Chairman.
Chairman Capito: (01:16:02)
Thank you. We’ve completed the senators that are here. Apparently, Senator Murkowski is on her way and Senator Tester and I have some additional questions so we’ll go until around 2:00. 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 head of the Office of Drug Control Policy, Jim Carroll, went to a drug court graduation. He announced 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 it was a week ago, Saturday, 875 pounds. And as I was reading the story, apparently one of the agents detected something, sent it to secondary screening and it was picked up on the non-intrusive inspection, hidden in a bunch of broccoli. Congratulations to you-
Chad Wolf: (01:17:08)
Chairman Capito: (01:17:09)
And the interdiction that you’re doing there. You’re saving lives by doing that. Crystal meth is pretty nasty stuff.
Chad Wolf: (01:17:14)
And we do and 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 opioids. So again, we work very closely.
Chairman Capito: (01:17:30)
That’s good. 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 want to be ready, but we want to be smart. And in visiting these facilities as I’ve shared with you privately several times, they’ve been underpopulated and so I’ve had great concerns about that. I would encourage you, I know you’re closing more than just one now and I appreciate that for your responsiveness and I’m sure it’s in the best interest of the department as well in terms of the resources and using the resources in the best way. I don’t know if you want to add anything on that.
Chad Wolf: (01:18:12)
Thank you, Chairman. We just need a balance as we bring those facilities offline, making sure that we are still prepared if there is a surge, other surge, very similar to last year or even a half of what we saw last year. 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. Those aren’t the right locations and so we need to just balance that concern.
Chairman Capito: (01:18:39)
Yes. Thank you. Lastly, or not lastly, but I would add also to Senator Baldwin’s question on the MPP. I think that in conjunction with the Mexican government, it’s been a great deterrent to having people flood across our borders. In the numbers, you’ve seen it go down since June of what was 105,000 and then this past month it was 29,000. Something’s working there and I think MPP is one of those protocols.
Chad Wolf: (01:19:08)
Yeah, 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. 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. So individuals that are put in this program that know they do not have, again, a meritorious claim, simply choose to walk away. And so, again, it’s a little bit of deterring that fraudulent behavior as well. Rooting out, restoring that integrity to the immigration system.
Chairman Capito: (01:19:48)
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 have helped us rebuild four of our schools. 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. I appreciate that and you just helped us with the match issue as well. But also in your budget request, it seems that the FY 2020 grants on the National Security and Resilience grant program, you’re revamping and cutting grants by an estimated $623 million. FEMA has a healthy life in a state like West Virginia. We have, unfortunately, more than our share of natural occurrences where we need help. I’m concerned. Is this going to cut back on, will less overall funding mean less grant applications would be granted and when the demand is still up?
Chad Wolf: (01:20:54)
Well, 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. 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 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 recipient’s base budgets. It is a balancing act. It’s a shared responsibility. Not only for the FEMA grants, there are certain grants where we’ve increased two or three fold TVP TP that we talked about, domestic terrorism prevention. We’ve increased the number of grants in that area. We look at each grant program differently to determine what’s needed.
Chairman Capito: (01:22:08)
Well, I would say, and I’ll turn it to Senator Tester, in terms of FEMA grants and preparedness and emergency response, 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’re all kind of pulling for each other here. But I think the best thing 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. Senator Tester.
Senator Tester: (01:22:49)
Thank you, Madam Chairman. I also want to just say thanks again for being here, acting secretary. I’m not going to do a gotcha. Are you familiar with the term consultation as it applies to having meaningful conversations with Indian tribes?
Chad Wolf: (01:23:05)
Senator Tester: (01:23:06)
The question is, there’s a wall being built with the Tohono O’odham tribe. The tribe says it’s going across tribal land that is a burial site, but the tribe says there has been no consultation. Go ahead.
Chad Wolf: (01:23:27)
Sorry. Go ahead.
Senator Tester: (01:23:28)
Yeah, no, shoot. I mean is there-
Chad Wolf: (01:23:30)
I’ve had conversations with both Senator McSally and Sinema on this issue. We have been in constant communication with the tribe and with the nation. We have some differences of opinion, but it’s not for a lack of communication. We continue to communicate with them. I plan to visit them as early as I can on my one of my next visits there.
Senator Tester: (01:23:51)
I would appreciate that, but, the whole idea behind consultation it’s actually listening. And I’m not saying you’re not, but I’m saying that when you get pictures like this, that it appears that it’s going through a burial site, maybe there’s more to the complaint than just somebody’s unhappy with [inaudible 00:18:07].
Chad Wolf: (01:24:08)
Yeah, I know they were concerned about use of groundwater. We’ve addressed that concern. We’re no longer using it within a certain mileage.
Senator Tester: (01:24:16)
It is critically important.
Chad Wolf: (01:24:17)
Senator Tester: (01:24:17)
And where I’m getting to on this is not only with tribes, I brought up eminent domain in the last round. These all set up grounds where people come to hate the government. And there is nobody that I 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. You brought up the stuff on the wall that’s going to keep this country safe. It’s not a steel wall that’s 18 or 20 feet high, it’s the lights, it’s the cameras, it’s the radar, it’s the heat-seeking information that can be up. It’s a 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, 100%.
Chad Wolf: (01:25:05)
Again, Senator, we need the entire border wall system. So we talked about the border wall system-
Senator Tester: (01:25:09)
I got it.
Chad Wolf: (01:25:09)
Physical infrastructure and it’s all the other technology that you talked about. You need both.
Senator Tester: (01:25:14)
What I’m telling you is, if you use technology, you get away from the problems at the Tohono O’odham have. You get away from the problems that the folks in 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 will be south of that wall. You get rid of all those things and I maintain that it’s going to be more effective than a wall. 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 going to be able to meet. And I put that out there, we can disagree, but mark my word, if I live long enough, there’ll be somebody standing in front of that wall, some president that will say, tear down this wall. Because it’s much more effective utilizing technology. And it’s a fact.
Chad Wolf: (01:26:05)
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. And that comes directly from the operators.
Senator Tester: (01:26:16)
And what I’m telling you, if you utilized manpower and 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 and that these towers are critically important and they cost pennies on the dollar. We’re spending, what, two and a half billion dollars on a potential pandemic that could raise heck. And by the way, if the 2% 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 that they don’t want us to know. 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.
Senator Tester: (01:26:59)
It anyway, it doesn’t make any sense. I want to talk about something more fun. Election security. We’ve got interference in the run up, potential in a foreign interference in the run up the 2020 elections, serious concern. It’s no surprise that Russia’s 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. We’re seeing it. Based on the intelligence reports that you’re privy to, do you agree that in the IC community, do you agree that Russia is trying to influence this upcoming 2020 election?
Chad Wolf: (01:27:35)
We believe that they, as they did in 2016, that they will try to influence the election in 2020.
Senator Tester: (01:27:41)
And do you feel that your department-
Chad Wolf: (01:27:43)
We don’t have any specific intelligence with that. We know that they’ve tried and we know that they did in ’16 and we assume they will do again in ’20.
Senator Tester: (01:27:51)
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’s trying to influence our elections, again? I’m not saying in favor of anybody. I’m just saying they’re trying to influence this election.
Chad Wolf: (01:28:04)
Yes, they continue to sow discord with our elections.
Senator Tester: (01:28:06)
And with this budget, do you think this properly resources DHS to be able to attack this problem?
Chad Wolf: (01:28:14)
Senator Tester: (01:28:15)
And you feel good about the potential of making sure the states are on board so that they know that you’re there to give them a backstop?
Chad Wolf: (01:28:22)
Absolutely. We do a number of things with the states, not only providing a number of services at no cost to the states. 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.
Senator Tester: (01:28:48)
I think this is foundational to the future of this country in the future of this democracy. Russia’s screwing around and they’re doing this for less than it costs for a fighter jet and it’s crazy. I just have one other question for you if I might.
Chairman Capito: (01:29:04)
Senator Tester: (01:29:04)
And that is is that there is a proposed Secret Service move to Treasury, from your department to Treasury. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good idea, but that isn’t the point here 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?
Chad Wolf: (01:29:23)
There has been a study I believe that’s been provided to Congress-
Senator Tester: (01:29:27)
Who did it?
Chad Wolf: (01:29:27)
On the move from DHS to Treasury and the both the pros and the cons of that. Happy to provide that again to you.
Senator Tester: (01:29:34)
And who did it?
Chad Wolf: (01:29:36)
I believe it was a number of folks to include Secret Service, but also other elements of the department.
Senator Tester: (01:29:42)
Was it an independent group that had no dog in the fight?
Chad Wolf: (01:29:47)
No, I believe there’s folks from the US government that would be involved in that move.
Senator Tester: (01:29:50)
I think they need to be involved, but from a question answering side, not a question asking side. 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. I don’t understand sending it to Treasury. There may be a reason or two, but it certainly doesn’t outweigh the reason to keep it where it’s at. I just want to say, just in closing a 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’d give us.
Chad Wolf: (01:30:26)
Thank you, sir.
Senator Tester: (01:30:27)
Good luck to you.
Chad Wolf: (01:30:28)
Chairman Capito: (01:30:29)
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 to Treasury. They’re part of the fabric of the Department of Homeland Security. And so I frown upon that as well. And 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 toured a lot of what they do in and around the White House in executive protection and they’re such a quality group of individuals that I think they’re well-placed in Homeland Security.
Chairman Capito: (01:31:18)
I have one last quick question. On the Coronavirus, when you mentioned your resources that are screening people, and this is probably small because there’s only 15 cases, but I think this is something that we forget sometimes when the people are in the workforce and they’re placed in situations where they could put themselves at risk that we may overlook that own personal risk that they’re taking in the betterment for the good of the country. Something like this I think is a pretty careful and sensitive topic. 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.
Chad Wolf: (01:32:04)
It was part of my response to Senator Kennedy. I have a responsibility to make sure that the American people are safe, but also the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security in doing their job every single day. Be provide a number of resources to CBP officers as well as TSA officers to make sure that they are aware of the risk. They understand the medical science behind it. We provide them a number of protective equipment that they are able to use and most are using that. But we’ll continue to lean forward on that. Any briefing, any discussion about coronavirus, how the department’s responding, my first or second question is always about the men and women of the department. How are they protected in doing their job every day. As you show up to work everyday, you expect to be protected, and we need to make sure that we do that for our employees.
Chairman Capito: (01:32:47)
Thank you and I would say, too, to Senator Shaheen’s point, if you leave a gap of transparency of what’s going on and 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 a 24 day incubation period. I have no idea if that’s true or not. And so if you’re keeping people for 14 days, it doesn’t matter if it’s 24 days. I really think when you get back to your task force in the morning, this is something people are starting to get really, really concerned about this as you know.
Chad Wolf: (01:33:23)
Chairman Capito: (01:33:24)
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. 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 relative senators will provide it or we’d be able to help provide in the chairman’s office. So with that, we stand in recess.
Chad Wolf: (01:33:52)