Congress juggles homeland security bills

Congress juggles homeland security bills

House and Senate leaders have devised different schemes to move Homeland Security Department legislation through their chambers. Although the administration's proposal for the new department has garnered wide support, lawmakers said legislation might not be passed by Sept. 11. Homeland security adviser Tom Ridge also said he is unlikely to head the new department.

The prospect of additional funding for homeland security systems won support from key senators, some of whom want the question of federal employees' collective bargaining rights addressed by the legislation.

Meanwhile, the House Government Reform Committee and others are reviewing the administration's proposal, sources said, after which a specially appointed select committee will consolidate the other committees' work.

The Senate will use legislation already approved by its Governmental Affairs Committee as a vehicle for creating the Homeland Security Department. Governmental Affairs chairman Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and others have been pushing for a department for months, and Lieberman is likely to lead the crafting of the Senate's version of the bill.

Homeland security adviser Ridge briefed senators yesterday on details of the administration's plans but didn't meet with unanimous approval. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the briefing 'a rehash of what has been in the newspapers'nothing new.'

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said that senators 'support the concept, but as always the devil is in the details.' He discounted the importance of a deadline for passing the legislation but added, 'People are supportive on both sides of the aisle.'

Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) noted that the administration has implied a veto of a recently passed supplemental appropriation bill that includes funds for homeland security and computer upgrades.

After meeting with Ridge, Byrd compared the Bush administration to a vaudeville magician diverting attention to its 'shiny new toy' and away from the real action'funding for homeland security. He said he supports the proposal to create a new department but urged colleagues 'not to be in too big a rush.' Byrd said Ridge would be 'ideal' for the job of secretary of Homeland Security.

Lieberman said the Sept. 11 deadline is important 'because it will get us to move faster than we otherwise would.' He said lawmakers had discussed funding homeland defense systems with Ridge. 'America is not using its technology edge,' Lieberman said. 'Our computer systems are outdated. One of the most important ways to spend homeland security money is to get our computers up to where they should be.' He said his committee would hold hearings on the administration proposal starting next week.

The legislation, Lieberman said, should protect the collective bargaining rights of federal employees assigned to the new department. He noted that existing law allows the president to limit collective bargaining rights of some employees involved in national security. 'No one's collective bargaining rights should be diminished,' Lieberman said.

Senate minority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he expects the administration to present its bill to Congress in the next week or 10 days.

After briefing senators, Ridge said the president needs him as an adviser within the White House rather than as secretary of Homeland Security. He said administration officials would meet with federal union representatives to discuss collective bargaining issues in the new department.



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