The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its dedicated workforce remain vigilant and committed to protecting the American public from a variety of threats and those seeking to exploit the pandemic environment. Various components within DHS have been committed in tackling the rise in consumer threats related to COVID-19.
“Criminals are attempting to exploit the current pandemic,” said Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan. “CBP continues to keep the American public safe by facilitating essential trade while targeting imports likely to contain illicit goods.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Providing Grants to States for Supplemental Lost Wages Payments. To ease the economic burden for those struggling with lost wages due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, President Trump authorized FEMA to expend up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund for lost wage payments. As of September 21st, Administrator Gaynor has approved 49 states, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia for FEMA grants under this unprecedented program. FEMA’s grant funding will allow the approved states to provide those unemployed due to COVID-19 $300 or 400 per week on top of their regular unemployment benefit. As of September 21st, FEMA has awarded more than $39 billion in support of Lost Wages supplemental assistance. All approved grant applicants receive an initial obligation of three weeks of funding, with additional disbursements made on a weekly basis.
Providing Full Federal Reimbursement for States’ National Guard Forces. On August 3rd, President Trump granted an extension for the use of the National Guard under Federal Title 32 orders to respond to COVID-19 until December 31, 2020. As of September 18th, 16,156 National Guard troops have activated in T-32 duty status and 221 troops have activated in State Active Duty status to help with testing and other response efforts. To date, President Trump has approved 49 National Guard requests for federal support for the use of National Guard personnel in a Title 32 duty status through December 31. For those states and territories that are approved under these criteria, FEMA executed a fully reimbursable mission assignment to the Department of Defense, including reimbursement for pay and allowances of National Guard personnel serving in a Title 32 duty status in fulfillment of the FEMA mission assignment.
Coordinating Deployment of Federal Personnel to Support States’ Efforts. FEMA continues to lead the operational coordination for the federal interagency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September 18th, there are over 19,226 federal personnel deployed across the country from FEMA, HHS, CDC, DoD, National Guard, and VA to support state, local, tribal and territorial COVID-19 response efforts. FEMA and our interagency partners are constantly tailoring staffing and resources across agencies, ensuring we can provide support when and where it’s needed most.
Science and Technology (S&T)
Driving Evidence-Based Policymaking. On September 16, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate updated its Master Question List (MQL), and does so weekly, to compile available research on operationally-relevant questions to aid decision makers in the COVID-19 response. The MQL is a quick-reference guide covering what is known about the virus, what additional information is needed, and who may be working to address these fundamental questions. New entries include:
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Keeping Americans Safe While Ensuring Continuity of U.S. Travel and Commerce. Between Sept. 13th through Sept 19th, TSA screened more than 4,875,173 passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely. TSA officers are required to wear facial protection and gloves while on duty at the checkpoint. In support of air travel and all other modes of transportation, the agency continues to follow CDC guidance to protect Americans, its workers, and the nation’s transportation system. TSA continues to promote its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” campaign which outlines significant airport checkpoint modifications, including new technologies that reduce or eliminate physical contact, implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and promote healthy and secure summer travel.
Ready to Ensure Safety During the Summer Travel Period. On September 14th, TSA issued a press release announcing it had deployed acrylic barriers at San Antonio International Airport to help protect TSA officers and airline passengers from COVID-19. On September 16th, TSA Administrator visited the TSA Systems Integration Facility (TSIF) where he met with employees and held a virtual town hall with all TSA employees to update the workforce on TSA’s efforts regarding COVID-19. The TSIF is a 128,000 square-foot laboratory environment in which TSA performs tests, vulnerability assessments and risk analysis on emerging checkpoint technologies in a simulated environment. On September 18th, TSA announced the deployment of a 3D checkpoint scanner at Boise Airport to improve explosives detection while minimizing physical contact between TSA officers and passenger property.
United States Coast Guard (USCG)
Monitoring Vessels that Pose a Risk to Public Health. As of September 18th, the USCG is tracking 60 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a US port, with approximately 9,440 crewmembers. This includes an estimated 200 American Citizens crewmembers dispersed among 33 vessels. The Coast Guard is working with the CDC based on its extension of the No Sail Order for cruise ships, which permits the off-loading of crewmembers following submission of a plan to the CDC.
Reservists. As of September 18th, the USCG has recalled and deployed 430 Reservists in support of COVID-19 operations. They are activated to serve in numerous types of roles, including work in IT support, medical clinics, PPE warehouses, command centers and other incident management roles, notably assisting federal partners such as HHS, and supporting state emergency operations centers on behalf of FEMA.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
CBP Continues to Keep America Safe. Last week, CBP issued a release announcing the seizure of 500,000 counterfeit N95 respirator masks in Chicago as well as the seizure of 20,000 counterfeit N95 respirator masks in Boston. Criminals continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for illegal financial gain. To combat this, CBP is targeting imports and exports – mainly in the international mail and express consignment cargo environments – that may contain counterfeit or illicit goods.
United States Secret Service (USSS)
Monitoring Unemployment Fraud Related to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic environment created a unique opportunity for exploitation. Exploitation is not a victimless crime. Americans in real need of funds are being defrauded. The United States Secret Service (USSS) has initiated 500 cases with respect to fraud of this nature, and seized $6 million in unemployment and insurance benefits, fraudulent funds, and $31 million in SBA/PPP loan fraudulent funds. Partnerships and public education is the key to prevention. The USSS works closely with the Department of Labor (DOL) and other financial institutions to ensure awareness of this issue and what to look for.