Jeh Johnson: ‘Absurd’ I Have to Spend Large Part of My Work Week Defending Paying Our People

By Ali Meyer | February 25, 2015 | 12:58 PM EST

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in regards to the debate on funding for the Department of Homeland Security that it’s “absurd that I have to spend a very, very large part of my work week simply defending paying our people to work,” at the DHS Strategic Industry Conversation in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

“In these challenging times when we’re concerned about terrorist organizations such as ISIL, al Qaeda the Arabian Peninsula, and so forth - we’re in the midst of a harsh weather - it is even absurd to be having this conversation,” said Johnson. “It is even absurd that I have to spend a very, very large part of my work week simply defending paying our people to work.

“As I’m sure you know the Department of Homeland Security is on a continuing resolution right now. That is how we are being funded - that continuing resolution expires midnight on Friday,” said Johnson.

“As long as the Department of Homeland Security is on a continuing resolution, and this is really for those who might be contemplating hunting for a period of time, it’s very difficult to function,’ said Johnson. “The analogy that I have used is it’s like trying to drive across country on no more than five gallons of gas at a time and you don’t know when the next gas station is going to appear.”

The secretary also echoed FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate’s statements about the effects of his department’s shut down on his agency.

“One of the things that should not be forgotten about this entire debate is what the FEMA administrator Craig Fugate told me the other day,” said Johnson.

Johnson quoted Fugate saying, “‘I’m upset because the people who are contemplating a shutdown of our department overlook the human element. They overlook the cost to people who are required to work without pay. We’re treating them like pawns. We forget what it will mean to them if they cannot be paid.’”

“Craig is absolutely right,” Johnson said.

“So as long as we’re on a CR, it greatly restricts our ability to do the things that we need to do for the American public for Homeland Security,” said Johnson.“Several weeks ago, the House of Representatives was offered an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security that funded us with appropriated money at the level of $39.7 billion dollars.

"It was a good bill. It provided for all of the things we need for Homeland Security. It was then amended on the House floor to include language to defund all nine executive actions that we issued in November to fix our immigration system,” he added.

“So the president has said he will veto a bill that includes such amendments, and I support that,’ said Johnson. “So here we are in the midst of the debate about whether the Department of Homeland Security should be funded past this week and in these challenging times right now, it is even absurd to be talking about this.

“The American people should be very concerned that the homeland security of this nation could shut down Friday at midnight. If that happens, 30,000 people in our workforce will be furloughed. Approximately 75 to 80 percent of our people will be required as essential government personnel to come to work without pay,” he added.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he would agree to give Democrats a clean vote to fund DHS through the end of the fiscal year. “I’ve indicated to the Democratic leader that I’d be happy to have his cooperation to advance the consideration of a clean DHS bill which would carry us through till September 30th,” McConnell said.

In addition, McConnell will hold a vote to defund President Obama’s executive action on immigration on Friday.

“That sequence would keep DHS open and could earn enough Democratic votes to pass the separate measure defunding the president's executive action,” National Journal explained. “Already Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin have said they will vote to move forward the immigration bill; although McCaskill said that the DHS funding must come first and hasn't made a decision on whether she'll vote for the underlying immigration measure.”

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