Homeland Security Committee approves strategy act

By Tom Waring

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8th dist.) successfully passed his first bill through committee after the Homeland Security Committee unanimously approved the DHS Multiyear Acquisition Strategy Act.

The legislation [H.R. 1249] seeks to streamline the Department of Homeland Security’s acquisition process to promote strategic investment as well as cost savings for taxpayers.

DHS programs cost taxpayers over $7 billion annually. Although the department has taken measures to improve acquisition management, it continues to be at high risk for waste, fraud and abuse.

“The Department of Homeland Security has faced longstanding challenges in managing its major acquisition programs. If the department is unable to effectively oversee its major acquisition programs, then they will be unable to provide frontline operators with the technologies and resources that are necessary to perform their vital duties,” Fitzpatrick said. “This bill requires DHS to establish a strategy as part of each Future Years Homeland Security Program to navigate acquisitions, while also allowing flexibility to deal with ever-changing threats and risks. By passing this bipartisan measure, we can ensure an effective and efficient DHS while protecting taxpayer dollars.”

Homeland Security Committee chairman Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican, said, “I am pleased to work with Congressman Fitzpatrick on his bill to streamline the major acquisitions program at the Department of Homeland Security. The more money wasted on unnecessary overhead costs, the less resources the Department has to fulfil its key mission of protecting our homeland. This bill will ensure that DHS operates in a more efficient manner and can better stay ahead of threats to our country.”

Fitzpatrick’s DHS Multiyear Acquisition Strategy Act now heads to the full House for a vote.

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Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick, a member of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, testified in front of the House Appropriations subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Commerce, Justice, Science to urge appropriate funding authorized by CARA and the 21st Century Cures Act that will help communities combat the opioid epidemic.

“From Levittown to Lower Salford, no part of my district is left unaffected. Last year in Bucks County, opioid-related deaths rose by 50 percent. In neighboring Montgomery County, opioid overdoses claimed a staggering 240 lives – up 36-percent from the previous year,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Thoughtfully designed, CARA utilizes a balanced strategy encompassing six pillars: prevention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, overdose reversal and law enforcement. In addition to CARA, the 21st Century Cures Act also contained funding to combat the opioid epidemic. Specifically, the remaining $500 million would supplement opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities by providing funding for states to improve prescription drug monitoring programs, implement prevention activities, train healthcare providers, and expand access to treatment programs.”

In his testimony, Fitzpatrick also referenced local law enforcement officials and first responders who have tirelessly worked to save lives. Specifically, he highlighted the work of the Bensalem Police Department as well as Diane Rosati of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission who recently reported that Bucks County police departments have saved some 263 residents through naloxone, an opioid overdose emergency treatment.

“While the number of lives saved from accidental overdose is an amazing number, it speaks to the magnitude of the issue and need for treatment follow through,” Rosati said.

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In other news, Fitzpatrick testified in front of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which sets levels for Department of Defense spending, and urged the panel for funding for “cleanup and remediation of PFOS and PFOA” as well as a “long-term health study on the impacts of PFOS and PFOA” in the area surrounding the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster, former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham and Horsham Air Guard Station.

Fitzpatrick said nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians may have been exposed to levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) exceeding the Lifetime Health Advisory levels set by the EPA.

PFOS, PFOA and other emerging contaminants are unregulated compounds being sampled for the first time in public water systems. Since May 2016, 22 public wells and over 140 private wells have been shut down due to high levels of PFOS and PFOA.

The military does not dispute its responsibility for the well contamination in the Horsham, Warrington and Warminster areas. It is suspected that high levels of PFOS and PFOA originated from firefighting foams used on the Naval and Air National Guard bases since the 1970s. The Navy has spent at least $19 million and the Air National Guard has spent at least $8.3 million in remediation efforts, which included the installation of Granular Activated Carbon filtration systems on public wells, bottled water for residents with private wells, home connections to public water systems, and paying for replacement water from neighboring public water systems.

“My constituents have a right to safe, clean drinking water and they deserve to know if PFOS and PFOA have compromised their long-term health,” Fitzpatrick said.

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Marriage before the age of 18, which is legal in Pennsylvania, can result in short- and long-term harm to a child, according to state Rep. Perry Warren, who has introduced a bill to set the minimum age to issue a marriage license at 18.

Warren said during a statewide telephone news conference last week that child marriages are often coercive and exploitative and increase the risk of domestic violence while undermining the child’s education, health and economic opportunities.

Under current Pennsylvania law, a marriage license may be issued to an applicant under the age of 16 if the court decides it is in the best interest of the applicant. A marriage license also may be issued in cases where an applicant is over the age of 16 but younger than 18 if the consent of a parent or guardian with custody of the child is personally given before the person issuing the license, or consent is certified in writing with the signature of two adult witnesses and is acknowledged before an officer authorized by law to make acknowledgements.

Warren’s bill would repeal those exceptions.

“This is about child protection. It is past time to change Pennsylvania’s marriage law to provide a minimum age of 18 for marriage,” Warren said. “Socially and developmentally speaking, children are not in the position to make sound decisions that involve complex legal, emotional and permanent investments involving family planning, pair-bonding and aging.

“Analysis in cases shows that the child often is not in control during a decision to marry before reaching age 18 and therefore cannot be expected to recognize the issues at stake when entering matrimony. For the child, such a deficit often leads to abuse, coercion and exploitation that lasts into adulthood.”

Jeanne Smoot of the Tahirih Justice Center and Fraidy Reiss of Unchained at Last participated in the call. Tahirih Justice Center is a nonprofit legal service and advocacy organization with national legal and policy expertise on forced and child marriage. Unchained at Last is a nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to helping women escape or resist arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives.

A 2011 survey by the Tahirih Justice Center found about 3,000 known or suspected cases in the previous two years alone of girls in the U.S. as young as 15 who were forced to marry under threats of death, beatings or ostracism.

Unchained at Last estimates that some 248,000 children were married in America between 2000 and 2010. Actual data from 38 states showed some 167,000 children wed in that decade. The other 12 states and Washington, D.C. could not provide the data. For them, Unchained estimated the number of children wed based on the correlation Unchained identified between population and child marriage.

Pennsylvania is a state that doesn’t keep numbers on child marriage.

“By taking just one simple step – setting the minimum legal marriage age at 18 – this bill will offer powerful protection to vulnerable children,” Smoot said. “In the Tahirih Justice Center’s experience, before individuals turn 18 and have the full legal rights of an adult, they can be easily forced or coerced to marry, or find themselves trapped in an abusive or exploitative marriage.”

“There’s a reason the U.S. State Department considers marriage before 18 a human-rights abuse,” Reiss said. “The impacts of child marriage on a child’s life are devastating and long-lasting, undermining her health, education and economic opportunities and increasing her risk of experiencing violence.”

Laws in 27 states do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry. Pennsylvania is one of these states. Marriage license data from 2000 to 2010 reveals that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children were married – almost all of them girls, some as young as 12 – to men 18 or older.

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Meanwhile, Warren issued the following statement in response to a report that Elcon Recycling Services has officially submitted an application with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for a commercial hazardous waste treatment and storage facility for Falls Township.

“DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell responded to my request for public hearings and committed to scheduling them moving forward, saying, ‘Our review of any material submitted by Elcon will be rigorous and thorough, and we intend to be transparent in all aspects of our review.’ DEP has 90 days to determine if the application is considered administratively complete before beginning the official review process.

“As I stated in my January letter, the public hearing process will allow residents and other interested parties the opportunity to ask questions and provide comment.”

The Phase II process is the most detailed and extensive review of all design and operational information. The DEP will put the application on its website: http://www.dep.pa.gov/About/Regional/SoutheastRegion/Community%20Information/Pages/Elcon-Recycling-Services-LLC.aspx and have copies for public review available at the Bucks County Library, 7311 New Falls Road, in Levittown. ••

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