- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

A select congressional homeland security committee voted yesterday to extend the deadline for the government to install equipment at airports that would detect explosives in checked baggage, as it approved and sent to the House the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security.
The House panel reversed a vote it took earlier in the day and approved the initiative, driven by Republican leaders, to push back the year-end deadline for 429 airports. The deadline was set by Congress in aviation-security legislation approved in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Many major airports and airlines said the deadline was too ambitious and could not be met.
The Transportation Security Administration, under the proposal endorsed by the panel in a 6-3 vote, would have until Dec. 31, 2003, to install explosive-detection equipment at the airports that cannot meet the current deadline of Dec. 31, 2002.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and the select committee chairman; Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican; and J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican, offered the proposal and spearheaded the plan through the homeland security panel.
"I felt like we needed to have something in place," Mr. Watts said. "It was crazy to think that these people can comply by December 31 of this year. We don't want to make matters worse by having more backlog and delays."
Some Democrats criticized extending the deadline.
"It saddens me that my family and my neighbors are at risk. And that's what this does. It puts them at risk," said Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, who led the fight against extending the deadline.
But Republicans said a number of airports have already said they won't be able to meet the deadline, adding that other explosive-detection systems will come on the market soon after the current deadline.
Mr. Armey said he was ready to face the criticism that immediately followed.
"It's time to be blamed for doing the right and necessary thing," he said.
Meanwhile, House Republican leaders, citing the need to prevent an ever-expanding government, fended off a series of Democratic amendments to enlarge the scope of the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
The Republican majority on the nine-member special committee wrote a measure that closely followed President Bush's initial proposal. However, the House measure includes the Republicans' own version of civil service protections, transfers the Immigration and Naturalization Service's enforcement duties to the new department, scraps the president's proposal for volunteers to engage in domestic surveillance and prohibits national identification cards.
The bill passed on a party-line 5-4 vote, with Democrats saying more work needs to be done.
"Some improvements have been made as we moved along; however, I believe this product is still flawed and will need substantial improvement on the floor before many of us will vote for it," said Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat.
But the Democrats' vote led Republicans to question their motives.
"To vote against this bill because the unions want you to vote against this bill being against creating a Department of Homeland Security because the trial lawyers don't want liability limited is pretty amazing to me," Mr. DeLay said.
The new department would encompass about 160 agencies and would have an annual budget of nearly $40 billion.
The series of party-line votes yesterday demonstrated why Republicans formed a select committee to produce the homeland security package. With the Republicans' majority and all five Republicans linked to the chamber's leadership, they were able to produce a bill to their liking, at times ignoring the recommendations of regular committees that normally would have written parts of the bill.
Still, members of those committees will probably have their chance to reclaim their turf next week by offering amendments when the bill goes to the floor for a vote. Democrats said they have been told there will be an open process allowing many amendments, and that means there are certain to be fights over the inclusion of particular functions, such as the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, in the new department.
"I love this institution, because it allows you to fight another day," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat.
There were recurring flare-ups over Democrats' desire to add new functions to the department including a homeland security institute to conduct research, similar to the way the Rand Corporation helps the Defense Department and to eliminate the bill's Freedom of Information Act exemptions for the new department.
Republicans, who voted in unison against those proposals, said the initiatives, while possibly good ideas, weren't central to the task at hand.
"I'm trying to keep a handle on this process and keep it to reorganizing government, rather than expanding it," Mr. DeLay said.
Republicans preserved language in the bill that limits the product liability of companies that contract with the new department.
They also wrote civil service rules for the new employees of the proposed department, going much further than the president had wanted in protecting whistleblowers, for example. But they did transfer to the new department the president's existing powers to limit collective bargaining for employees involved in national security, a move Democrats opposed.
The Senate is writing its own version of the bill, and the rules regarding civil servants are bound to be a point of contention when House and Senate negotiators eventually meet to work out differences in conference.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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