Homeland security plan hits roadblock in House

WASHINGTON -- Leading lawmakers urged a House panel yesterday to significantly alter President Bush's plans to merge nearly two dozen agencies into a new Homeland Security Department.

At issue is concern that Congress could lose its constitutional authority over spending and that the lines between the executive and legislative branches of government could become blurred.

"Don't throw away our separation of powers and our system of checks and balances because some hotshot downtown says it will help catch bin Laden -- it won't," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

The president's plan calls for giving the director of the new department the power to shift funds, up to 5 percent of its budget, among the various agencies within the department without congressional approval.

"The administration's transfer proposal is overly broad and unprecedented," House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. said. "It would undermine the appropriations that our committee and this Congress carefully deliberate each year."

Young and Obey started off a daylong hearing by the House Select Committee on Homeland Security to gather input from congressional leaders on nine committees about the proposed department.

Lawmakers generally accepted the overall concept of creating a new department to improve coordination of the nation's defenses against a terrorist attack in the United States, but they proposed major changes to the president's plan.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, chairman of the panel, expects the House version of the president's proposed legislation to be finalized tomorrow, with a full House vote as soon as next week.

Led by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, the White House is conducting an intensive lobbying campaign to win support for the president's plan. But nettlesome issues persist, such as whether to merge the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard into the new department, as the president has requested.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has voted against recommending the transfer of the Coast Guard and FEMA.

"The (president's) bill simply goes too far and covers too many agencies," said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the Transportation Committee. "There is tremendous concern that the bill as introduced will create a great deal of bureaucratic chaos and inaction."

In addition, the White House has not released an estimate on how much its new security proposals would cost state and local governments.

Other developments yesterday:

Assets seized: A federal task force has seized $22.8 million in cash, checks and other assets in its push to disrupt terrorist finance networks.


Operation Green Quest has made 369 seizures, arrested 38 people and indicted 26, Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner said in a statement this week.

Agents have targeted both legal and illegal enterprises.


  • Intelligence failures: To prevent terrorist attacks, U.S. intelligence agencies need to do a better job of using both sophisticated technology and old-fashioned spying, a House panel said.


    The report by the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security identified weaknesses in counterterrorism efforts by the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency before the Sept. 11 attacks. They included communications problems among agencies, a shortage of linguists and a failure by agencies -- and Congress -- to pay enough attention to terrorism.

    The subcommittee issued a 10-page summary of a classified, 140-page report that was presented to the House leadership. The full Intelligence Committee is conducting a larger, joint inquiry with its Senate counterpart into the Sept. 11 attacks.


  • Operation TIPS: The Postal Service has decided not to take part in a government program touted as a tip service for authorities concerned with terrorism.


    "The Postal Service had been approached by homeland security regarding Operation TIPS; however, it was decided that the Postal Service and its letter carriers would not be participating in the program at this time," the agency said in a statement.

    The project is promoted by the Justice Department as a means for workers whose jobs bring them in contact with neighborhoods, highways and businesses to report suspicious activities.

    But the American Civil Liberties Union charges that it would result in Americans spying on one another.

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