WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Sunday that he would have to furlough at least 30,000 workers if Congress does not agree to fund his department by the end of February.
“This is not a situation to make light of,” Johnson told CNN. “In these challenging times we need a fully funded Department of Homeland Security.”
In sterner terms and tone than normal, Johnson pushed back on an emerging argument that a DHS shutdown wouldn’t have that far-reaching an effect since many of the department’s employees would remain at work as essential employees.
He cautioned that it was wrong and not particularly effective to require people to work without pay, and noted that this designation didn’t apply to everyone in the agency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he noted, would have to furlough an estimated 80 percent of its workforce.
“I am on Capitol Hill now virtually every working day talking to Democrats and Republicans about the importance of a fully funded Department of Homeland Security in these times in particular,” said Johnson. “Let’s not forget that the Department of Homeland Security interfaces with the American public more than any other department in our government at airports and at ports.”
The current standoff in Congress is over whether a DHS funding bill should include riders to end President Barack Obama’s executive actions to defer deportations for various groups of undocumented immigrants. The House has passed a bill. But it’s been filibustered three times in the Senate by Democrats and would face a veto from the president even if it made it through that chamber.
Johnson called for a clean funding bill to make it to the president’s desk, after which, he added, Congress could go about debating the efficacy and legality of the executive actions.
“Let's have that debate, but don't tie that to funding public safety at Homeland Security for the American people,” he said.
DHS currently employs around 230,000 individuals. The 30,000 who would be furloughed would primarily be administrative staff.