House Approves Homeland Security Authorization Bill

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Authorization Act (H.R. 1817), which authorizes $34.2 billion for all aspects of operation of DHS in 2006, is receiving mixed reviews.

Homeland Security Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) is calling the final overall Homeland Security Authorization Bill an example of "a weak attempt to fully protect the nation."

The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act, which was approved overwhelmingly, is the first bill Congress has passed to grant overall authorization of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending. The legislation would authorize $34.2 billion in fiscal year 2006 for agency programs to prepare for and combat against terrorist attacks.

"I appreciate the work that Chairman [Christopher] Cox (R-Calif.) did to get as many Democratic suggestions into his bill as possible, but I must say that the overall bill is lukewarm and lacks the necessary provisions to close a large number of security gaps," says Thompson. "Because this is the first DHS authorization bill considered by Congress, it would have been good to pass a more comprehensive authorization bill that addresses many remaining homeland security problems such as the lack of protection to America's key critical infrastructure, gaps in aviation security, and the under-funding of first responder personnel."

Cox, on the other hand, called the legislation "comprehensive," adding, it is "the first of what will be annual authorizations of all of the programs and policies of the Department of Homeland Security. This annual authorization process, which is the same that is followed for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, will ensure the close working partnership between the Executive and Legislative Branch that is necessary to the fulfillment of our national security mission."

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Full funding for the recruitment and training of 2,000 new border agents
  • Creation of the position of assistant secretary for Cybersecurity to lead new National Cybersecurity Division and National Communications System
  • Risk assessments at all foreign ports to determine the best locations to screen cargo bound for the United States
  • Applying standards to all overseas shipments before they enter the United States
  • Streamlined operations to coordinate the missions of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Single application program for background checks on individuals participating in multiple programs within DHS used to expedite travel and to provide background checks and security screenings for workers
  • Funding for state and local enforcement of immigration laws
  • Reforming the Threat Advisory System to communicate as much specific threat information as possible directly to regions, states, localities, industries and all Americans
  • Designating the Homeland Defense secretary designated as official spokesperson for all threat information
  • Authorization of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) as a national, real time communication system for DHS and thousands of local agencies
  • Creation of the DHS Technology Clearinghouse to research and implement anti-terror technology
  • Providing counterterrorism technology incentives through protection against frivolous litigation
  • Creation of a National Terrorism Exercise Program to coordinate and establish standards for all federal, state, and local terrorism drills
  • A focus for new DHS intelligence on nuclear and biological terrorism
  • Giving DHS authority to recruit highly sought after intelligence analysts
  • Creating red teams to invigorate intelligence analysis and strengthen DHS counterterrorism measures.

Rep. Thompson had introduced a Democratic substitute bill that would have provided for $6.9 billion more in funding than either the base bill or the president's budget, including the funding needed to fulfill the homeland security commitments in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and to meet other priorities. The Democratic bill also would have required a comprehensive border strategy and technology to monitor national borders 24 hours a day; provided new authority to ensure chemical plants are secured; required a 3-year plan to ensure all air cargo on passenger planes is screened; requiring maritime cargo container security standards; creating new security measures for rail and public transit; establishing deadlines for creating security plans for all critical infrastructure improvements in biometrics and other screening technology; and creation of a new DHS council to monitor domestic terrorism.

"My goal was to fulfill all of the commitments made in the 9/11 bill that the president signed into law last December. The president made a lot of promises when signing that bill but then in January, the administration's proposed budget failed to fully fund the programs in the 9/11 Act," says Thompson.

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