Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), during the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen for the position of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, discussed the need to prevent the flow of drugs into our country in order to combat drug addiction. Nielsen confirmed to Portman her support for the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, legislation authored by Portman designed to help stop dangerous drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers here in the United States. Portman introduced her at the beginning of the hearing.

Excerpts of the questioning can be found below and a full video can be found here.

Portman: “We’re delighted that you’re stepping up to take on this incredibly important role. One of the things that was mentioned earlier was Congressional oversight. There has been frustration expressed in this committee that we don’t get the kinds of responses that we need to be able to do effective oversight. This is not a partisan issue, and it shouldn’t be. As the Chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, we have worked on a totally bipartisan basis. We’ve done some good work, but it requires the administration to be responsive. I would say that it might be helpful for me to give you a specific example rather than just talk generally about it. It has to do with what Senator McCaskill talked about earlier which is this ability for us to focus on the supply side with drugs coming into our country.

“So we’re doing an investigation, and I’m not going to get into detail about the investigation because we tend to keep those non-public in PSI, but we’re trying to get information from the frontlines as to what’s happening with regards to looking at packages. We know fentanyl is the number one killer now in my home state of Ohio. It is increasingly the drug that is even pushing out heroin and other opioids. It’s a synthetic drug, it’s inexpensive. Most of it comes from China and most of it comes through the mail system. Private carriers, as you know, have to provide this advanced electronic data, which we’ll talk about in a second. The Postal Service does not, therefore traffickers use the Postal Service. We want to know how can we stop this poison from coming into our communities. We all on this committee have focused on the demand side and that’s important—prevention, education, treatment, and recovery—but we also know that if we can stop this poison from coming in, it will save lives and at a minimum raise costs for these street drugs.

“So we want to interview the online people who are actually doing the inspection of packages at JFK, at your other sites where you have the Post Office bringing in overseas packages. We are told by DHS ‘no, those are too low level people. You have to interview the supervisors.’ We persist. They continue to say no. So we interview the supervisors. They don’t have  the information for us. In fact, I will tell you, the supervisors, one of them at least, refused to look at the emails to be able to provide us some responsive answers. That was frustrating. You know what they told us? ‘You need to talk to the online people.’ So DHS refuses to allow us to talk to the online people, we go to the supervisors at their request, the supervisors say they really don’t have the firsthand knowledge and that we need to talk to the folks on the frontlines. So, I just wanted to give you that as a very specific, real-time concern that we have right now on the PSI Subcommittee. I think if Senator Carper were here that he would echo my concerns. He’s the ranking Democrat on that committee. We don’t want to have to go to subpoenas, but we will.

“I would just like the commitment that you expressed to me in private in our meeting about this broad topic that you will work with us to enhance the responsiveness of the department. It is a big, sprawling department with a lot of management challenges and a lot of layers. We want the commitment that you will work with this committee which is the committee vested with the responsibility for providing oversight over DHS to respond to Congressional inquirers.”

Nielsen: “Thank you, sir, for that question. You do have my commitment. I think that, as we discussed, there is no more important partnership perhaps, with a large department with its large scope, to be very clear with respect to the policies regarding oversight and transparency. I believe those are keys not only to leadership but to the effective partnership that’s required to combat the threats today. So you would have my commitment that any question that you have, we would be responsive and provide you the information that you need to do your job , which in turn helps us to do our job.”

Portman: “I think sending that message from the top is very important, and I think my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would appreciate that. On this issue of drugs coming into the country, let me ask you about a specific legislative initiative. Most members of this committee have been involved in what’s called the STOP Act. It simply says that with regard to private carriers you have to have the advanced electronic data as to what’s in the package, where it’s from, where it’s going. That helps law enforcement, CBP in particular, to be able to  identify those packages and stop some of this poison from coming in. I’ve seen this at facilities that do private carriers—UPS facilities or DHL facilities, same thing at FedEx facilities.  At the Post Office there is not that requirement through the Postal Service. In 2002, Congress required the private carriers to do it and said the Post Office should too, but we’re going to give them some time, let’s have a report. That was 15 years ago, and even today the Post Office is pushing back.

“So what I would like to hear today from you is your commitment to getting this legislation through. It’s very simple. It says the Post Office has to require the same advanced electronic data so that your folks can actually identify this poison coming in. When we talk to CBP, of course they are very interested in having this legislation passed. They need this tool. When we talk to the postal inspectors, same thing. When we talk to local law enforcement, same thing. The legislation has not moved in part because the Post Office has pushed back.

“In the last two weeks, the commission that the president formed on opioids specifically requested passage of the STOP Act. Now the administration is on record officially. Can you give us your commitment today that you will support the STOP Act  and help us to get this legislative fix on this one area completed so that we can begin to make progress keeping the supply of these drugs out of this country.”

Nielsen: “Yes sir. And I also look forward to, should I be confirmed, providing any technical assistance that’s necessary to make sure that we can implement it effectively, working with the U.S. Post Office, and working with Customs and Border Patrol to ensure that they have the resources and personnel that they need to play their part.”

###