- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002


A dozen House committees have completed work on the new Homeland Security Department that President Bush wants, leaving it to a special House panel to put together one bill that reconciles some major differences with the president on the future role of such agencies as the Coast Guard and the INS.

The House Government Reform Committee, working past midnight Thursday, was the last to approve its portion of the legislation that would combine 100 agencies with security functions, comprising 170,000 employees, under one federal roof.

Deviating from other committee decisions, Government Reform went along with the president on including the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Secret Service in the new department.

Retaining those agencies in the first new Cabinet department since Veterans Affairs in 1989, "is critical to the core mission and overall success of this new department," said committee Chairman Dan Burton, Indiana Republican.

The focus now turns to the special panel led by House Majority leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who must deal with the dozens of suggested revisions to the president's proposals and meld them into one package. He said yesterday that his panel intends to complete its work by the end of next week so the full House can vote on it the following week.

The Senate must also pass its version of the legislation. Senate leaders have said they intend to act this month, although Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, has objected to that fast pace.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said in a statement Thursday that attempts to block a vote on a measure with broad bipartisan support "would be a very unwise decision."

Four Cabinet secretaries appeared at the first hearing of Mr. Armey's special committee Thursday to stress the urgency of congressional action.

"We must be willing to make a dramatic transformation in light of the dramatic threats we face," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, accompanied by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

But some House members from both parties said Mr. Bush's plan goes too far and moves too fast.

The House Transportation Committee, responsible for 54 percent of the employees and 50 percent of the estimated $37 billion budget of the new department, defied Mr. Bush's plan Thursday in deciding to let the Transportation Department keep the Coast Guard and let the Federal Emergency Management Agency remain independent.

In both cases, the argument was that the main functions of those agencies such as search-and-rescue and drug interdiction for the Coast Guard and FEMA's relief for natural disasters would get secondary treatment in a department devoted to fighting terrorism.

House committees also rejected Mr. Bush's request for broad authority to transfer money within the new agency's budget without congressional approval, kept the bulk of animal- and plant-health inspection programs in the Agriculture Department and made clear the Health and Human Services Department would maintain primary responsibility for health research.

Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, whose district includes many federal workers, joined Democrats on the Government Reform Committee to pass, 21-19, an amendment to ensure that civil servants whose jobs don't change when they move to the new department don't lose collective bargaining rights.

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