WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several provisions led by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, were passed as part of the year-end government funding bill. Peters provisions were included to strengthen cybersecurity for state and local governments, improve oversight of the government’s pandemic response, ensure the Postal Service has sufficient funds to continue operations, and better protect homeland security.
“Our nation continues to face serious challenges that threaten the health, safety and economic security of Americans and Michiganders. Cyber threats, the pandemic and other critical issues must be tackled head on and without delay,” said Senator Peters. “I am proud that several of my provisions that will make our nation safer and improve government operations were included in this bipartisan bill. As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I look forward to continuing my bipartisan work next Congress to help protect the American people and ensure that government works effectively and efficiently for all.”
Provisions that Peters led or supported in the legislation to improve our nation’s homeland security and ensure that government works efficiently for all Michiganders and Americans include:
- Boosting Michigan’s Border Security and Role as Hub for Commerce: Peters secured provisions to facilitate staffing and the completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge Port of Entry and the Blue Water Bridge Customs Plaza expansion. The provisions require the Department of Homeland Security to report on staffing for the Gordie Howe Bridge, and a timeline for the Blue Water Bridge Customs Plaza project’s completion. Peters also secured a report on security screening at Great Lakes ports to determine if the Port of Monroe is being held to different standards than other regional ports.
- Strengthening Oversight of Federal Government Pandemic Response: Peters established key oversight measures – the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) and a new program of oversight under the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – as part of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help ensure that taxpayer dollars are going to the health care providers, small businesses, people, and communities who need them most. Peters secured a provision to strengthen PRAC’s oversight authority over both previous and future Coronavirus relief bills. Peters also secured $10 million for GAO. Since passage of the CARES Act, GAO has released four comprehensive reports and opened over 100 audits into all aspects of the federal pandemic response. Without this additional $10 million, GAO would have run out of dedicated funding for its Coronavirus oversight work.
- Providing Security Grants to Houses of Worship and Nonprofits: Peters has led multiple efforts to increase resources available to faith-based and nonprofit institutions that are under threat from terror attacks. The end of year funding bill includes $180 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which helps to provides grants to help at-risk institutions, including houses of worship and nonprofit groups, so they can plan for and safeguard their facilities against potential attacks. Peters led bipartisan legislation signed into law earlier this year to authorize additional funding for the in-demand program, and recently led a bipartisan call for the program to get robust funding.
- Funding the Postal Service: Peters secured a provision to convert a $10 billion loan to USPS passed as a part of the CARES Act to direct funding. This will ensure that the Postal Service can put the funds towards their operations and recover from pandemic-related losses. As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Peters has fought to protect the Postal Service and its 245-year tradition of mail delivery.
- Safeguarding Taxpayer Dollars from Misuse: The bill includes a provision based on a Peters-backed bill to help save billions of federal taxpayer dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals. Earlier this year, Peters released a report detailing how the Trump Administration sent more than 1 million stimulus payments – costing taxpayers approximately $1.4 billion – to deceased Americans as part of the Coronavirus relief spending Congress passed earlier this year.
- Modernizing the REAL ID Process: This Peters-led provision will modernize how states can accept REAL ID applications. It allows states to accept electronic documents and identification information, removes the requirement to present physical copies of some documents, permits states to use digital photographs already on file and requires aircraft operators and third party reservation entities to notify passengers about REAL ID requirements beginning three months ahead of the October 1, 2021 deadline.
- Bolstering State and Local Cyber Defenses: This bipartisan Peters led provision directs the Department of Homeland of Security (DHS) to provide resources and assistance to local governments wanting to adopt .gov web addresses. This trusted domain increases resilience to cybercrimes that frequently target local government systems, including imposter websites and email accounts, as well as ransomware attacks. This provision is particularly critical during the pandemic when Michiganders and Americans are relying on local governments for the most up-to-date information.
- Preventing Law Enforcement Exposure to Opioids: This bipartisan Peters-led provision requires the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to develop effective protocols and procedures for the safe handling of, and exposure to, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl by CBP officers, agents, other personnel, and canines. It also requires mandatory and recurring training on the handling of synthetic opioids and how to access and administer opioid receptor antagonists. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are far more potent than other opioids, and as little as two milligrams can be lethal. The Detroit Metropolitan Airport is a major hub of incoming flights from China, which some officials estimate is responsible for roughly 90% of the world’s illicit fentanyl. In 2019 alone, CBP’s Detroit Field Office was responsible for seizing roughly 10.5 pounds of fentanyl, which could contain as many as 1.5 million lethal doses.
- Strengthening Security around Unmanned Aircraft: This bipartisan provision, originally introduced by Peters, would establish a coordinator charged with countering unmanned aircraft systems such as drones. The Coordinator is required to oversee DHS’s efforts to develop guidance and regulations, promote research and development, and share threat intelligence to counter malicious drones. The Coordinator is also required to serve as the primary liaison between DHS and federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement entities, as well as the private sector, regarding these activities.
- Ensuring the U.S. Government is Appropriately Using Artificial Intelligence: A provision based on a bipartisan bill Peters helped lead was included to ensure that the use of artificial intelligence across the federal government is effective, ethical, and accountable by providing resources and guidance to federal agencies.