- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, in his markup of legislation to create a Homeland Security Department, yesterday rejected a national identification card and scrapped a program that would use volunteers in domestic surveillance.
Mr. Armey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, included language in his markup of the legislation to prohibit the Justice Department from initiating the Terrorism Information and Prevention System, also called Operation TIPS.
Mr. Armey's bill also would create a "privacy officer" in the Homeland Security Department, which he said was the first ever established by law in a Cabinet agency. Mr. Armey said this person would "ensure technology research and new regulations from the department respect the civil liberties our citizens enjoy."
The TIPS program would have allowed volunteers, including letter carriers and utility workers whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize suspect activities, to report suspect behavior to the Justice Department. It was scheduled to begin next month in 10 cities, with 1 million informants initially participating in the program.
"Mr. Armey believes there are other and better ways to involve citizens in the protection of the homeland," said Richard Diamond, the congressman's press secretary. "There are traditional ways of pitching in, helping out, like becoming a volunteer firefighter."
The 216-page bill, sponsored by Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, also bars the creation of national identification cards, despite President Bush's support for them. "Authority to design and issue these cards shall remain with the states," Mr. Armey said.
In addition, the bill would indefinitely postpone a Dec. 31 deadline for airports to screen checked bags for explosives and would give immunity from lawsuits to some technology companies involved in national security.
Since the announcement earlier this week of its creation, Operation TIPS has attracted criticism from across the political spectrum.
Supporters argued that the program is aimed at encouraging people with certain jobs those that take them into neighborhoods to watch for suspect activity.
Attorney General John Ashcroft's spokeswoman, Barbara Comstock, said the agency had no intention for people to enter or have access to people's homes. The idea is to organize information from people whose jobs take them through neighborhoods, Ms. Comstock said.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge also defended the program. "The last thing we want is Americans spying on Americans," he said. "That's just not what the president is all about, and not what the TIPS program is all about."
But civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Rutherford Institute, said Operation TIPS could turn ordinary citizens into "government-sanctioned peeping Toms." The U.S. Postal Service also said this week that it would not allow letter carriers to be involved with the program.
Yesterday, the groups praised Mr. Armey's decision. "Majority Leader Armey has taken a courageous step in insisting that we protect our privacy in the fight against terror," said Rachel King, an ACLU legislative counsel. "There is no place in America for either an internal passport or for utility workers and cable technicians to become government-sanctioned peeping Toms."
Democrats also applauded the move. "I think they did a good job on the privacy issues," said House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi of California, who also is a member of the select committee.
The House Select Committee on Homeland Security is likely to alter the measure when it is considered today, as is the full House when it reaches the floor next week. Overall, the bill would give Mr. Bush much of the huge new Cabinet agency he requested to safeguard Americans from terrorism at home.
The Senate has finished hearings on the new department but is not expected to take up the issue for a few weeks.
The proposal to delay indefinitely the Dec. 31 deadline for all checked airline bags to be screened for explosives drew immediate fire from Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat and ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In a letter to colleagues, Mr. Oberstar said the new Transportation Security Administration, which would become part of the Homeland Security Department under Mr. Armey's bill, repeatedly has assured Congress that it can meet the deadline.
"Although this deadline is demanding, it is not impossible," Mr. Oberstar wrote, noting that the law allows each airport to set a new, unlimited deadline if the Dec. 31 date cannot be met.
Republican leaders and Democrats also continued to negotiate whether to give Mr. Bush flexibility in making personnel decisions, which the president said he needs to respond quickly to terrorist threats. Opponents say it could wreck civil service workers' protections and undermine unions collective bargaining.
Key lawmakers also reached an agreement with the White House to give Mr. Bush some authority to transfer up to 2 percent of the money in the Homeland Security Department budget for two years, with some strings attached, instead of the 5 percent discretionary power he had sought.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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