Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday dissolved the Homeland Security Advisory Council, according to a letter obtained by CNN, ousting a board of independent advisers that included Trump-era officials and setting up a plan to reconfigure the council.
“In the service of an orderly transition to a new model for the HSAC, I have ended the term of current HSAC members effective March 26, 2021,” the letter to members reads. “I will reconstitute the HSAC in the next few weeks, once the new model has been developed.”
The unusual move dismisses former Trump-era officials who served on the council, Ken Cuccinelli and Tom Homan, as well as others like NFL Chief Security Officer Cathy Lanier, McCrary Institute for Cybersecurity & Critical Infrastructure Protection Director and the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano. There were more than 30 members of the council, according to the most recent membership list.
Council Chairman and former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told CNN that Mayorkas has indicated a desire to “move very quickly” to create a new council that reflects the priorities of the department, such as immigration, domestic terrorism and cyber concerns.
He said there will also be a strong emphasis on the demographic makeup of the council to “ensure that we look like America. And at the current time, we really don’t,” pointing to the small number of women and minorities.
Bratton, along with Vice Chair Karen Tandy, and Chair Emeritus William Webster, will remain in their positions.
The council, which has been touted by past secretaries, provides independent advice to the Homeland Security secretary, and conducts research and provides policy analysis on various security issues.
For instance, in 2019 the committee issued an emergency report on families and children in Customs and Border Protection, with recommendations to address the humanitarian crisis at the time. And during his tenure, former acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan tasked the council with evaluating how the department could work with houses of worship and faith-based groups to ensure protection from acts of violence.
Mayorkas will conduct a “comprehensive review” to assess how the council can be best be used to advise the department and advance its mission, according to a DHS spokesperson.
Following the review, a redesigned council will be launched with “diverse membership representative of America and the communities DHS serves,” according to the spokesperson. “It will be bipartisan.”
Republican Rep. John Katko of New York, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was critical of the move, saying that Mayorkas’ decision to dismantle the existing council sends the message that this administration has “no intention of upholding a bipartisan, unifying approach to securing our homeland.”
“The HSAC is not intended to be an echo chamber for what the current DHS Secretary wants to hear,” he added in a statement.
The ousted committee members were appointed by former DHS secretaries who served under Democratic and Republican presidents, such as Janet Napolitano, Kirstjen Nielsen and Jeh Johnson.
Bratton, initially appointed by Napolitano, said it’s his expectation that a “number of” the members who were let go may be asked to rejoin the newly formed council.
Going forward, the council will remain a bipartisan, active body, he said, adding that “this is a working council.” At any given time, there are four or five subcommittees working on the secretary’s priorities, Bratton said.
In May of last year, former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf appointed seven new members to the council – Carafano, James Fuller, Hans C. Miller, Chris Nocco, Cynthia Renaud, Mark Weatherford, and Brian White.
“The Department relies on the unique perspectives and strategic advice provided by HSAC members to help address emerging threats in a rapidly changing world,” he said in a statement at the time.
This story has been updated with reaction from New York Rep. John Katko.