Defense & National Security — Watchdog details DHS troubles during evacuation 

The Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog said a lack of volunteers hamstrung the agency’s ability to manage Afghan evacuees brought to the U.S. and other countries.  

We’ll talk about the report. Plus, we’ll look at why veterans are staging a sit-in at the Capitol after Senate Republicans blocked legislation expanding benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxins during military service.   

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Lack of volunteers crippled DHS during evacuation 

A lack of volunteers hamstrung the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) effectiveness in managing a surge of Afghan evacuees brought to the U.S. and other countries in the wake of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan, according to a government watchdog. 

While DHS was not a part of the on-the-ground evacuation in Afghanistan, it’s been the lead agency of operation Allies Welcome, tasked with running background checks of evacuees transported to nearby countries and then coordinating with refugee and social service agencies once they arrived at U.S. military bases. 

But despite an initial overwhelming interest in aiding with that effort, a slow response time from DHS combined with a lack of funding left the agency reaching only about a third of its goal for volunteer recruitment. 

Backstory: DHS first reached out to employees about the opportunity to volunteer with the Afghanistan effort on Aug. 20, just days after the fall of Kabul when the chaos of the U.S. exit was becoming increasingly apparent. More than 1,500 employees registered with DHS’s volunteer force to be a part of the effort. 

  • But DHS waited almost two months to contact prospective volunteers, in some cases asking them to leave with just 48 to 72 hours’ notice. 
  • In the end DHS never had more than 67 volunteers working at the military bases housing Afghan evacuees, supplying just 3 percent of the staff at the so-called safe havens. 

What DHS said: “DHS advertised these detail opportunities to its employees but did not direct components to commit all necessary staff and did not initially receive funding. Therefore, DHS did not fill all the positions,” the report noted. 

“DHS could not reimburse components for the costs of travel and overtime, making some components reluctant to fund the volunteer deployments and further limiting the number of DHS employees at safe havens.” 

Who took on the job? “Partners such as [the Department of Defense], which supplied nearly 87 percent of staff, assumed the majority of responsibility for providing staff at safe havens,” the report noted. 

Volunteers stressed that the funding issues were a major problem. 

“Safe haven leaders and [U.S. government] staff shared their belief that components did not want to pay for employee details and speculated their reluctance was exacerbated by the nearness to the end of the fiscal year and because they were operating under a continuing resolution,” the report said. 

Read more here.  

Vets stage sit-in over burn pits vote  

A group of veterans staged a sit-in at the Capitol in response to Senate Republicans blocking a bill that would extend health care benefits to millions of veterans who were exposed to toxins during their service. 

How long will this last? The group tweeted it would remain outside the Capitol until the next cloture vote on the bill, which is expected Monday. 

Quick recap: Twenty-five senators went from supporting the Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act when it passed the Senate 84-14 last month to helping filibuster the bill when a technically updated version was blocked 55-42 on Wednesday. 

‘Punched in the gut:’ “We got punched in the gut, right by those 25 senators that flipped their vote from yesterday,” Burn Pits 360 Executive Director and co-founder Rosie Torres told The Hill late Thursday. 

Torres said the veterans rights group was spending the night on the steps of the Capitol “as a message to those senators, those 25 senators and asking them to right the wrong.” 

“They shouldn’t be here, and to know that we’re in that America where they’ve turned their backs on veterans and their families are sick and dying. It’s disgusting. But if this is what we have to do to get the bill passed, and at all costs, all measures, we’re going to get it done,” she said. 

Read the full story here. 

Air Force grounds F-35 fleet due to faulty component

The Air Force said Friday that it is grounding its fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets over a faulty component. 

The stand-down, which was first reported by Breaking Defense, was due to an issue with the cartridge actuated device (CAD) — a component inside ejection seats used to help propel the seats out of an aircraft.   

Capt. Jonathan Carkhuff, a spokesperson for Air Force Combatant Command, told The Hill in a statement that the command began a “Time Compliance Technical Directive to inspect all of the cartridges on the ejection seat within 90 days.” 

“Out of an abundance of caution, ACC units will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process. Based on data gathered from those inspections, ACC will make a determination to resume operations,” Carkhuff added. 

Read more here. 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

  • The National Defense Industrial Association will hold a “Brief on Section 224 Efforts” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Hudson Institute will host “The Arc of a Covenant Book Talk with US Senator Ben Sasse” at 6 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you next week!

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