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Chris Murphy takes over Homeland Security budget subcommittee

Chris Murphy is now in a key position to make decisions about the U.S. Homeland Security budget at a time when the department is warning the American public of a continued threat from domestic violent extremists.

Connecticut’s junior Democratic senator is now chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Murphy successfully pushed for a change in the Senate’s rules to allow more junior members to chair “better and more influential” subcommittees, he said.

Following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Murphy sees domestic extremism as the most significant security threat faced by the U.S. in the short term.

“I spend a lot of time on foreign policy and national security. There are known foreign terrorist groups with desires to attack the U.S., but in the wake of Jan. 6, and the persistent threats that still exist to the U.S. Capitol, in that view, insurrectionists are the most likely terrorist threat against the U.S. at this time,” he said.

Murphy said he wants to review whether the responsibility of tracking these extremist groups, which primarily is done by the Department of Justice but with help from other agencies, is too scattered across the federal government.

The Department of Homeland Security, the third-largest department in the federal government, includes the Coast Guard, which has a strong presence in Connecticut. Coast Guard officials say the service is in dire need of new equipment to carry out its mission, including a new fleet of icebreakers that can operate in the Arctic.

“We have a lot of catching up to do at the Coast Guard with respect to the age of the fleet and the infrastructure,” Murphy said. “It’s stunning how many facilities the Coast Guard has and many of them were built in the World War II era; similarly, the fleet itself is old and in greater need.”

The Arctic is seeing increased human activity along the Northern Sea Route amid melting sea ice, and there are concerns that the Coast Guard will not be able to handle the influx of commercial traffic that’s expected in the region. Officials say the U.S. continues to lag behind China and Russia, which have made efforts to project power in the region.

“The Russians are moving a lot of traffic through those passageways,” Murphy said. "The U.S. needs to have access there, as well.”

The subcommittee’s oversight of the Coast Guard is part of what interested Murphy in the chairmanship. He sees the subcommittee having an “active inquiry and oversight role” in how the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Academy handle issues of diversity and discrimination going forward.

“Part of what interested me in taking over the subcommittee is the ability to continue to do my work in following up on the disturbing number of whistleblower complaints that my office has received about what’s happened at the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Academy,” he said.

He also anticipates that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be a big focus.

President Joe Biden recently directed the agency to reimburse states and municipalities for costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Murphy said there needs to be oversight of that money “to ensure states are getting the reimbursements they are expecting to fight the pandemic.”

Murphy also noted the increasing amount of money the U.S. is spending to respond to natural disasters. “We're spending more money than we could’ve ever dreamed of cleaning up after hurricanes and intense storms and brutal cold spells," he said. "The question is: Do we want to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency response money, or spend money to guard against these disasters?”

"As someone representing a coastal state," he said," I want to talk about shifting FEMA money away from response into prevention."

j.bergman@theday.com

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