Portman Secures Commitment from DHS Secretary Nominee to Address Cybersecurity, Stop Influx of Deadly Drugs, and Protect Faith-Based Organizations

Nominee Alejandro Mayorkas Also Committed to Strengthening E-Verify & Combating Human Trafficking

January 19, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) secured commitments from Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to address cybersecurity threats from foreign actors; stop the influx of deadly synthetic drugs at the southern border and through the U.S. Postal Service; ensure that faith-based organizations and nonprofits are secured against threats through FEMA’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program; strengthen the E-Verify program in an effort to make it more effective; and combat human trafficking.

Last year, Senators Portman and Gary Peters (D-MI) announced they will build upon their bipartisan cybersecurity work by holding hearings and work on bipartisan comprehensive cybersecurity legislation in response to the SolarWinds breach. Portman asked Mayorkas to ensure the entire government has the cybersecurity resources and tools to safeguard their work. Mayorkas committed to working with CISA and the whole government to ensure federal agencies have the cybersecurity tools and resources they need to carry out their missions securely.

Mayorkas committed to fully implementing Portman’s bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act which became law in 2018 and is working to help reduce the supply of fentanyl shipped into the United States through the U.S. Postal Service. On December 10, Portman pressed the federal agencies in charge of implementing the STOP Act on why they had not fully complied with the requirements as established in the law.  

Finally, Senator Portman and Mayorkas discussed his bipartisan Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations From Terrorism Act which provides grants to faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to help secure their facilities against a potential terrorist attack. Mayorkas committed to continuing to work with this program.

A transcript of the exchange can be found below and a video can be found here.

Portman: “So let me ask you about the particular issues on cybersecurity. You and I had a chance to go into this in some detail in our conversation. As you know, the SolarWinds massive breach concerns all of us. And, frankly, is not that surprising given what we had been finding which is that the federal government is not well prepared to deal with these kinds of breaches that are going to be increasingly a challenge for us. CISA, which is a group within Homeland Security Department you talked about earlier, I believe has been stretched too thin. You know, they did a great job on the elections--keeping cyber-attacks from happening in the election. But they, unfortunately, during that same time period did not even know about the Russian, apparently Russian, massive cyber breach. Can you comment on what CISA should do going forward? It’s a new agency. Congress has given them a lot of responsibility. I don’t think we have given them an adequate mission that’s focused enough or adequate resources to be able to carry out that mission. So that’s my view. But what is your view on CISA? What do you commit to do if you are a confirmed with respect to getting CISA on its feet as a federal coordinating body to deal with cyber threats?

Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: “Mr. Chairman, this committee deserves tremendous praise for standing up CISA as the critical agency in the Department of Homeland Security that really owns the cybersecurity mission on behalf of the Department. And I think Congress deserves credit for the NDAA’s provisions, further equipping CISA to meet its statutory obligations and the challenges and opportunities that it confronts.

“CISA must improve the cyber hygiene of the federal government of the many departments and agencies throughout it. It must strengthen the public private partnership not only for the benefit, of course of the federal government but for the benefit of the private sector itself. I take stock of the fact that the Solarium Commission’s recommendation for a National Cybersecurity director was passed. I think this is going to require an all of government approach and there is a great amount that will rest on the shoulders of CISA and I hope I have the privilege to lead the Department and support CISA in meeting those obligations.”

Portman: “That’s good. You talked about cyber hygiene. The Federal Information Security Modernization Act also known as FISMA looks at the agencies every year and decides how they’re doing and DHS cybersecurity program was rated ineffective. So it’s not just that CISA needs to work on the rest of government. It needs to be a little work in house to be able to straighten that out. Are you committed to doing that?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “Absolutely, Mr. Chairman. We need to lead by example.”

Portman: “We talked earlier a little about the drug issue. And as you know, I’m the author of the STOP Act which has been effective at keeping some of this fentanyl from coming in from China by mail. Unfortunately, the department, particularly CBP, has not been moving forward as they should to be able to implement that. The CBP regulations regarding how the STOP Act would be implemented were due in October of 2019. October of 2019. They still haven’t been finalized. As a result, the STOP Act which said that we have to require China to provide this advanced electronic data on all packages by the end of last year, so a couple of weeks ago, was not met. And Congress stepped in with my support and we gave them another three months otherwise hundreds of thousands of packages would have been turned away. But we’ve got to get these regulations in place and we got to be sure and meet that new March 15th deadline. Are you committed to doing that to ensuring those regulations are put in place and that we can get the STOP Act fully implemented?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “I certainly am, Mr. Chairman. And when we last spoke you notified me of this issue and I followed up and should I have the privilege of being confirmed one of my priorities will be to make sure that we promulgate those regulations because I very well understand the urgency of the threat that you have identified.”

Portman: “We’ve got to keep this poison from coming into our communities directly by our U.S. mail system. We know we have more to do on the border now too because that is where most of it shifted. On E-Verify, I take your answer earlier to Senator Romney, I thought his question was excellent about the need for us to strengthen E-Verify. It’s not just a matter of making sure that more companies step up and voluntarily use it, in my view. It is a matter of changing the program so it is more effective. And specifically, obviously the issue of identification. If you have false identification, fraudulently obtained identification then the program is not going to work effectively. Will you commit to work with us on dealing with the pull factor, which is the magnet of U.S. jobs?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “Senator, I look forward to working with and commit to working with this committee on all issues that come before the Department of Homeland Security.”

Portman: “But specifically, on E-Verify, are you willing to work with us on strengthening that program?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “Yes, I am.”

Portman: “The trafficking center was talked about earlier. We do a lot of work on this committee on the trafficking issue. Homeland Security also has responsibilities. I said earlier it’s one of my priorities. Can you commit to looking at this issue of elevating the new center out of HSI where it is now to the headquarters level?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “Senator, I would be pleased to look at that in the capacity of the headquarters. To really administer that most effectively I would like to study that issue and I commit to sharing my findings with you. I understand the prioritization of that mission set and whether it belongs in headquarters or HSI is something I would like the opportunity to review should I be privileged to do so.”

Portman: “Given the mission, I think it is much more appropriate that it be at headquarters level to be able to be effective. And we can talk about that. Secret Service, I have talked to you about this already. My understanding is that you think the Secret Service should stay at the Department of Homeland Security, is that correct?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “Yes, it is.”

Portman: “My concern, having known a lot of members of Secret Service, having been a protectee is that they continue to be overworked and undervalued. And they have enormous strain on them including right now with regard to this inauguration tomorrow. Would you agree to prioritize, from a staffing and budgeting perspective, ensuring that the Secret Service has what they need to be able to do its mission?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “I would, Mr. Chairman.”

Portman: “We look forward to working with you on that. There are a number of issues connected to today with regard to antisemitism and pushing back against white supremacists. One of the things that we have done in this committee since you were last in government is we have substantially expanded the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to help with regard to all kinds of faith based organizations and nonprofits including synagogues and Jewish Community Centers and so on that have been under threat in my home state of Ohio. Specifically, Senator Peters and I led an authorization bill for the program that we got signed into law just last year. We also increased the funding this year to $180 million. And Senator Gillibrand and I are working on some other improvements to the program. My question for you is, are you willing to work with us and work with our partners around the country and this is being done, as you know, through FEMA, to ensure that we have adequate help for these faith-based communities to be able to push back against the extremist threat, number one. And number two, my longer-term concern is sustainability. Many of these organizations are getting grants in Ohio, frankly, number have applied and been successful. But to sustain these programs over time whether it’s cameras, we have expanded the program in the last couple of years to include security personnel as an example. Or whether it is simply having the ability to fully guard against these attacks by having the facilities hardened against potential attacks, the long-term sustainability of these programs concerns me. And I wonder if you’d be willing to work with us on that as well?”

Mr. Mayorkas: “I would on both counts, Mr. Chairman. I’m very well aware of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program under my leadership and Secretary Johnson’s leadership. We increased it. Very grateful to this committee for increasing it further and I well understand its needs.”