WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today urged Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to maintain funding for counterterrorism teams after the Administration’s recent budget proposal included dramatic cuts. The Administration’s FY 2018 budget cut the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, which conduct sweeps of airports, train stations, and bus terminals in an effort to safeguard against terrorist attacks, from 31 to eight—a decrease of $43 million.
“I’m concerned that the President’s budget plans to cut critical programs at a time that we cannot afford to let up on these security measures,” McCaskill said. “A large portion of this cut is taken from the VIPR teams…which are deployed all over the country, to provide critical assistance with securing airports, subways, and bus terminals, some of the most attractive soft targets for terrorists in our country…I don’t think that any of us believe that the threat of a terrorist attack is less today than it was 15 years ago, and I hope funding is maintained for these teams.”
McCaskill and Kelly also agreed on the need to protect election infrastructure in the aftermath of recent reports that Russia attempted to hack elections-related hardware and software during last year’s elections. Last year the Department of Homeland Security designated election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure,” which would allow states to voluntarily request cyber assistance from the Department of Homeland Security to secure their election systems—a designation McCaskill and Kelly agreed was important in light of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“I like that our elections are decentralized—I don’t think the federal government should be telling each state how to run their elections or what vendors to use,” McCaskill said. “But this was an international attempt to impact the elections of the United States of America, so it really would be distressing if the United States would pull back from the ability to help states protect these voter files.”
McCaskill has served on both the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Armed Services Committee since joining the Senate in 2007, and has made protecting American families at home and abroad a top priority. McCaskill wrote to Kelly in March asking how he would protect the election infrastructure of state and local governments from cyberattacks.