State and local governments will suffer if Congress fails to fund the Department of Homeland Security past this week, the department’s head said on Sunday.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a dozen states’ chief executives who’d gathered in Washington for a National Governors Association meeting that he’d have to suspend grants that help local police and firefighters pay for training and equipment.
Those grant programs would be frozen as 30,000 Homeland Security staffers are furloughed and “our headquarters staff scales back to a skeleton crew to support our efforts” in the event of a shutdown, Johnson said.
His comments came as governors warned that they couldn’t stomach a Homeland Security shut-down.
“They should not let partisan politics threaten our homeland security and threaten the economic security of so many Americans,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.
Still, some Republicans pressed Johnson on why the White House isn’t willing to hold off on its immigration plans in order to strike a deal with their party’s congressional leadership.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked what President Barack Obama’s administration is “putting on the table to resolve” the dispute over whether Obama’s immigration action should hold up Homeland Security funding.
“Congress and the executive branch have to find a way to work together on this,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
Even with the furloughs, Johnson said more than 80% of Homeland Security’s workforce will be forced to show up, even though they won’t be paid. Those workers, he said, include law enforcement officers, border security, cyber-security officers – and also the Coast Guard, which he said is “deployed as far away as places like the Arctic, in the midst of a very harsh winter right now.”
But the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said, wouldn’t be called back in unless there’s a “real-world, life-threatening disaster.”
The bigger problem, he said, is that even a temporary halt in the department’s work could put it behind in tracking terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“At my headquarters, I’m pressing my staff continually to stay one step ahead of groups like ISIS, AQAP, Al-Shabaab, to stay one step ahead of the weather, to stay one step ahead of the cyberattacks we face, to stay once step ahead of what’s happening on our southern border,” Johnson said.
A shutdown, he said, “means taking people off the front line and realigning their responsibility.”