WASHINGTON – On day 34 of the partial government shutdown, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday it may take months or even years to recover from the damage done to homeland security by the shutdown.
“We are in the midst of a security crisis,and it is one of our own making, frankly,” Johnson said at a discussions hosted by told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Chairman Bennie Thompson said the partial government shutdown, which has left 800,000 federal employees without pay, may reach a breaking point Friday when workers miss a second paycheck, which means many may not be able to pay their bills on Feb. 1. The House Thursday passed an appropriations bill 231 to 180 along party lines that would reopen the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate voted Thursday against two different plans to open the government.
“President (Donald) Trump’s shutdown has been going on for over a month now,” Thompson said. “Remember this is his shutdown.”
Thompson said many of the 800,000 are officers working in homeland security, including border patrol, transportation security, Coast Guard and secret service officers. He said the shutdown has “undermined” the department’s ability to secure and protect the country and pay its frontline officers.
Caitlin Durkovich, the former assistant secretary of Homeland Security for infrastructure protection, said as the shutdown drags on, the risk from “active and persistent” threats in cyberspace and other domains continues to grow.
She said the department relies on an “antiqued” definition of internet threats that does not consider those risks to be imminent, so those preparation measures have been reduced or even stopped.
Employees working without pay are performing essential jobs to protect federal networks and work at federal security operation centers, she said, and will have to provide support for major public events like the Superbowl, Mardi Gras and the Daytona 500.
However, Durkovich said many programs are on hold, like the risk assessments for elections and census systems’ vulnerability.
“At the end of the days our adversaries are very capable, very smart,” Durkovich said. “They follow every day with great interest what is happening in this country and are looking for opportunities to exploit where there might be weakness or softness.”
Former Federal Emergency Management Administration official Tim Manning said all the people he has talked to at FEMA are looking for new work. He said his biggest fear is that there will be a national catastrophe, such as an earthquake or terrorist attack, and “we won’t have people in the building.”
Manning said many of the employees at FEMA who would deal with a crisis are furloughed and will be recalled if an event occurs but added that valuable time would be lost.
“We are just rolling the dice,” Manning said. “We will be lucky to get everyone back on the job without a crisis that we have to respond to.”
Johnson emphasized the hardship put on homeland security personnel, particularly the border security agents and TSA officers. Johnson said his son is in the Coast Guard and his shipmates fear they may go broke if they don’t switch to a different military service.
“The very people we depend upon to protect us are the people we are now inflicting a financial insecurity,” Johnson said. “The most basic thing our leaders can do is keep our government open and pay our workers. We are failing at that right now.”