- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The House Homeland Security Committee today is expected to pass legislation that calls for overhauling the color-coded terror-alert system and provides funding to hire 2,000 more border agents.

“What’s universally viewed as broken probably needs fixing,” Rep. Christopher Cox, committee chairman and California Republican, said of the color-coded system. “The Homeland Security Advisory System has too often seemed to tell the American public that they are at grave risk, without telling them why or what to do about it.”

The call for a new threat system — contained in the Homeland Security authorization act for spending in fiscal 2006 — says warnings should be generated specifically for regions and economic sectors, and contain information usable by the public and first responders.

The current five-color system, which indicates risks ranging from low to severe, has been criticized as being too vague.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on NBC’s “Today” program that he will not eliminate the color-coded system.

“We want to engage all of the mechanisms to prepare when we have a warning situation,” Mr. Chertoff said. “We want the public to be knowledgeable about what is going on, but not alarm them.”

Democrats on the committee said they will offer an alternative proposal that calls for structural changes within the Homeland Security Department, but supports funding for the Border Patrol agents.

“The first thing we need to do is make sure the department has its act together internally,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and ranking committee member. “If the department’s inspector general and privacy offices are weak and its staff lacks basic employee protections, then the agency is destined to fail or be mediocre at best.”

Republicans, who control the committee, are expected to defeat the Democrats’ alternative and pass Mr. Cox’s proposal.

Both parties’ versions put into law the Bush administration’s request for $34.2 billion for homeland security and include $1.96 billion for border security to hire and train 2,000 agents.

“An insufficient number of Border Patrol agents leaves our land borders vulnerable to illegal crossings by terrorists,” the Republican proposal says. It also creates the post of an assistant secretary to oversee a proposed national cyber-security office.

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